Cystic fibrosis is a type of genetic disease that many people struggle with today. Over 30,000 Americans are living with this condition, with doctors diagnosing at least 1,000 new cases every year.1 While people with cystic fibrosis may look healthy on the outside, they’re actually struggling to cope with their symptoms on the inside.
Basic Information About Cystic Fibrosis
Identified as a progressive genetic disease, cystic fibrosis is a disorder that affects the mucus and sweat glands.2 It affects the cells that produce these fluids, as well as the digestive juices. In normal people, these fluids are thin and slippery, but because of their defective gene, those with CF experience thick and sticky secretions instead.3
These fluids, instead of functioning as a lubricant, end up clogging ducts, tubes and passageways, especially in the pancreas and lungs. This leads to breathing problems and creates an unhealthy environment wherein bacteria can easily grow.
As a result, the person experiences repeated lung infections and lung damage.4 Meanwhile, excessive mucus in the pancreas prevents the release of digestive enzymes that are essential for breaking down food and absorbing vital nutrients.5 People with cystic fibrosis may exhibit symptoms that others may find alarming, such as:6
- Persistent cough with productive thick mucus
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
- Bowel disturbances (constipation or oily stools)
- Frequent chest infections, which may include pneumonia
It should be made clear that cystic fibrosis is not contagious. However, it is hereditary. This means that if you carry the faulty gene and you produce an offspring with another person who also has the faulty gene, there’s a 1 in 4 chance that your child will be born with cystic fibrosis. It’s believed that 10 million Americans are now carriers of this faulty gene.7
Cystic Fibrosis in Infancy
Identifying cystic fibrosis in infants is possible today, as it’s usually part of the newborn screening test. This routine testing is conducted by taking a small amount of blood from the baby’s heel and checking for a particular type of protein. If the result is too high, further testing is done to confirm the diagnosis.8
One of the first indications of cystic fibrosis in infants is having meconium ileus at birth. This is a condition that occurs when their small intestine is obstructed with meconium, the green substance that comes out with the baby’s first bowel.
In some cases, the intestine becomes twisted or does not properly develop. The large intestine may become obstructed by the meconium as well, leading to a delay in bowel movements for one or two days after birth.
Some babies with cystic fibrosis may also appear fine at birth, but then develop breathing difficulties or do not put on weight in their first 4 to 6 weeks. Some children may have a nagging, wheezing cough.9 If any of these symptoms manifest in your newborn child, request a screening right away or have your baby checked to rule out cystic fibrosis.
Cystic Fibrosis Is Incurable but Manageable
There’s currently no definite cure for cystic fibrosis, but the good news is that there are treatment options that can help CF patients to control their symptoms, live comfortably and keep complications at bay. Due to improved treatments and proper disease management, people with this disorder are now living into their 40s, 50s or even older.10