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Children's Health

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Cystic Fibrosis - What Happens

Although cystic fibrosis generally follows certain patterns, each person's symptoms depend on what is happening with his or her mucus-producing cells. These kinds of cells are found throughout the body in many different organs and systems, including the:

  • Lungs and respiratory system. People with cystic fibrosis have thick and sticky mucus that traps bacteria. This causes lots of lung infections and often causes permanent lung damage. Bronchiectasis, which is caused by long-lasting airway inflammation, is common.
  • Pancreas and digestive system. Mucus can interfere with how the pancreas works. This can make it hard for the child to absorb nutrients from food.
  • Sweat glands. You may notice that your child has unusually salty skin. Cystic fibrosis can cause a person to become easily dehydrated or to have very low salt levels.
  • Reproductive organs. Almost all men who have cystic fibrosis are unable to father a child. Women who have cystic fibrosis may have more difficulty getting pregnant than other women.
  • Skeletal system. People who have cystic fibrosis may have weaker bones than other people. This is because their bones contain lower levels of minerals. Weakened bones can lead to bone fractures, osteopenia, or osteoporosis. Cystic fibrosis can also cause swollen or painful joints (arthropathy or arthritis). These problems are more common in adults than in children.

Life expectancy

The life expectancy for people with cystic fibrosis has been steadily increasing. On average, people who have cystic fibrosis live into their mid-to-late 30s. But new treatments are helping some people to live into their 40s and longer. People who have a mild form may have a normal life expectancy.

Even though cystic fibrosis can't be cured, the treatments continue to get better. And there are new treatments that target the cystic fibrosis gene defect.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 09, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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