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Signs and Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis

written by: AlyssaAst • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 3/13/2011

Signs and symptoms of cystic fibrosis commonly occur in the respiratory and digestive systems. Serious and life-threatening complications are associated with this condition.

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    Cystic fibrosis is a serious and life-threatening lung disorder that causes nutritional deficiencies and lung damage. This inherited condition causes the cells that are responsible for producing sweat, digestive juices and mucus to produce thick and sticky secretions, instead of thin slippery secretions. Instead of these secretions acting as a lubricant, they begin to clog ducts, tubes and passageways. This mainly affects the lungs and pancreas. In the past, people with this condition only had a life expectancy to the teen years, but with new medications and treatments, people can achieve a lifespan of 50 years or longer.

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    Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis

    Signs and symptoms of cystic fibrosis can vary from case to case and the severity of the disease. Typically diagnosed during childhood, symptoms can worsen or improve over time. Although most symptoms of cystic fibrosis begin to appear during childhood, some may experience symptoms during infancy, while others may not experience symptoms until adulthood.

    This first sign of cystic fibrosis generally includes an excessively salty taste to the skin, due to the fact people with this condition have higher salt levels in their sweat. This sign of cystic fibrosis is often discovered when parents kiss their children.

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    Digestive Symptoms

    Signs and symptoms of cystic fibrosis occur with the digestive tract. The tubes that carry digestive enzymes to the small intestine from the pancreas become blocked. As a result, the intestines aren’t able to fully digest and absorb the nutrients in food. This can produce foul smelling or greasy stool and a distended abdomen from constipation. Other digestive symptoms include poor weight gain or growth and an intestinal blockage, which is commonly seen in newborns.

    Digestive complications that can occur from cystic fibrosis include nutritional deficiencies due to blocked tubes. Diabetes can occur with cystic fibrosis as well. The bile duct can become blocked, leading to liver problems and gallstones. Rectal prolapse can occur due to straining from constipation.

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    Respiratory Symptoms

    Respiratory symptoms of cystic fibrosis can take many forms. As thick sticky mucus clogs the tubes that carry air to and from the lungs, symptoms begin, which often include a persistent cough. Other respiratory symptoms associated with cystic fibrosis include wheezing, frequent lung infections and frequent sinus infections.

    Many complications are associated with cystic fibrosis. Common complications include bronchiectasis, chronic infections and collapsed lung. Nasal polyps and respiratory failure can also occur. Bronchiectasis occurs when the airways have become damaged and scarred. With the extra mucus in the lungs, chronic infections often occur. Due to repeat infections, collapsed lung is a complication. Nasal polyps develop when the lining of the nose becomes inflamed. Respiratory failure occurs as the condition worsens.

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    Other Complications

    Complications with the reproductive systems in both men and women are associated with cystic fibrosis. Osteoporosis can occur as well due to lack of nutrient absorption. Electrolyte imbalances are common due to an imbalance of minerals within the blood.

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    References:

    "Cystic Fibrosis: Complications" MayoClinic

    "About Cystic Fibrosis" CFF.org

    "Cystic Fibrosis" KidsHealth

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