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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.
  • 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.

There is no cure. But experts are hopeful that the discovery of the cystic fibrosis gene defect may soon lead to a cure.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 08, 2013
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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