Understanding Cystic Fibrosis: The Basics

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease, meaning it is caused by a person's genes. It affects the glands that produce mucus and sweat, causing mucus to become thick and sticky.

As the mucus builds up, it can block airways in the lungs. This makes it increasingly difficult to breathe.

Mucus buildup also makes it easier for bacteria to grow. This can cause frequent infections in the lungs.

Mucus buildup can prevent necessary digestive enzymes from reaching your intestines. The body needs these enzymes to digest the nutrients in the food that you eat, including fats and carbohydrates.

People with cystic fibrosis also lose large amounts of salt when they sweat. This can cause an unhealthy imbalance of minerals in your body. It can lead to:

About 30,000 Americans have cystic fibrosis. Each year about 1,000 new cases are diagnosed.

Sixty years ago, the disease killed most people who had it before they reached elementary school. Nowadays people with cystic fibrosis have an average lifespan of about 37 years.

What Causes Cystic Fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease.

For someone to get cystic fibrosis, both parents must be carriers of the gene that causes it and then pass it on. That means 25% of the children of such parents will have cystic fibrosis.

Boys and girls are equally likely to get the disease. About 10 million Americans carry the gene and do not know it. More whites get the disease than do people of other races.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on March 01, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: "Frequently Asked Questions."

American Lung Association: "Cystic Fibrosis."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "What Is Cystic Fibrosis?" 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis?" 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "How Is Cystic Fibrosis Diagnosed?" 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "How Is Cystic Fibrosis Treated?"

News release, FDA.

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