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Cystic Fibrosis Explained

Understanding Cystic Fibrosis

What Is Cystic Fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited disease of your mucus and sweat glands. It affects mostly your lungs, pancreas, liver, intestines, sinuses, and sex organs.

Normally, mucus is watery. It keeps the linings of certain organs moist and prevents them from drying out or getting infected. But in CF, an abnormal gene causes mucus to become thick and sticky.

The mucus builds up in your lungs and blocks the airways. This makes it easy for bacteria to grow and leads to repeated serious lung infections. Over time, these infections can cause serious damage to your lungs.

The thick, sticky mucus can also block tubes, or ducts, in your pancreas. As a result, digestive enzymes that are produced by your pancreas cannot reach your small intestine. These enzymes help break down the food that you eat. Without them, your intestines cannot absorb fats and proteins fully.

As a result:

  • Nutrients leave your body unused, and you can become malnourished.
  • Your stools become bulky.
  • You may not get enough vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  • You may have intestinal gas, a swollen belly, and pain or discomfort.

The abnormal gene also causes your sweat to become extremely salty. As a result, when you perspire, your body loses large amounts of salt. This can upset the balance of minerals in your blood. The imbalance may cause you to have a heat emergency.

CF can also cause infertility (mostly in men).

The symptoms and severity of CF vary from person to person. Some people with CF have serious lung and digestive problems. Other people have more mild disease that doesn’t show up until they are adolescents or young adults.

Respiratory failure is the most common cause of death in people with CF.

Until the 1980s, most deaths from CF occurred in children and teenagers. Today, with improved treatments, people with CF live, on average, to be more than 35 years old. Research continues to look for:

  • Better treatments
  • A cure
Other Names for Cystic Fibrosis
  • CF
  • Cystic fibrosis of the pancreas
  • Fibrocystic disease of the pancreas
  • Mucoviscidosis
  • Mucoviscidosis of the pancreas
  • Pancreas fibrocystic disease
  • Pancreatic cystic fibrosis
Content Created/Medically Reviewed by our Expert Doctors
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