Tips for Adults Who Have Cystic Fibrosis

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on May 12, 2021

Today, people with cystic fibrosis (CF) live longer, healthier lives than ever before. If you have CF, medications and treatments can help you manage your disease. You can also take many actions -- big and small – that will make a difference in how you feel. Here are five things you can do to live your healthiest, fullest life.

1. Avoid Germs

You need to be on germ patrol at all times. CF causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in your lungs, creating an environment where germs thrive. This can put you at risk for lung infections, which affect how well your lungs work. They can also cause lung disease to get worse.

Follow these tips to steer clear of germs in your day-to-day life:

  • Stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who’s sick.
  • Avoid activities that put you near other people with CF, to lower the risk of spreading sickness.
  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Clean and disinfect your medical equipment properly.
  • Don’t share items that come into contact with saliva (straws or utensils) with other people -- even family.
  • Avoid contact with dust or dirt.
  • Stay current on your vaccines, including the flu vaccine, and ask family and friends to do the same.

2. Exercise

Between feeling tired, out of breath, and coughing, you may wonder whether exercise is a good idea when you have CF. Not only is it OK to exercise, but doctors recommend it. Exercise helps clear mucus out of your lungs. It strengthens your heart and muscles. The stronger you feel, the easier it is to do everyday tasks. Choose activities that you enjoy and that keep you moving.

Work with your CF care team to find an exercise program that works best for you. Try to do moderate exercise for about 20 minutes every day of the week. This means you can still talk while you move. Add resistance training, like lifting weights, 1 or 2 days per week.

If you go to the gym, take steps to avoid germs. For instance:

  • Wipe down equipment with an alcohol-based gel before you use it.
  • Wash your hands after you touch any surface -- from treadmills to hairdryers.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who’s sick.

3. Eat Well

With CF, the pancreas doesn’t work as it should. It doesn’t make the enzymes it needs to help digest food. This affects how well your body gets nutrients. You use more energy to breathe, fight infections, and maintain your weight than other people do. That’s why people who have CF often need about twice the calories the average person needs in a day. Work with your CF care team to find out how many daily calories you need and the best way to get them.

4. Take Care of Your Emotional Health

When you have CF, your physical health takes center stage. But your emotional health is important, too. Because you have a chronic (ongoing) disease, you may face lots of stress and anxiety. This can put you at risk for depression. When you feel anxious or depressed, you may not take care of yourself as well as you should. If you have any signs of anxiety or depression, seek help. Some of the signs include:

  • Sadness
  • Low energy
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent crying
  • Irritability

Depression can also cause problems with your sleep. You may sleep too much or too little. Or you might worry a lot and have headaches. You may even have thoughts of suicide.

If you think you may be anxious or depressed, talk to someone on your CF care team. Working with a mental health professional, like a psychologist, can make a big difference in how you feel.

5. Learn About Your Fertility and Sexual Health

Men with CF are missing the vas deferens. This is a part of the male reproductive system. Sperm travel through it to exit the penis during ejaculation. Most men with CF make healthy sperm, but they’re infertile (can’t get a woman pregnant).

If you’re a man with CF, you and your partner can conceive with the help of assisted reproductive technology. Ask your doctor for a referral to a urologist -- a doctor who specializes in male reproductive organs. They can find out whether you’re infertile and help you take the next steps toward having a baby.

Most women with CF are fertile, but the disease can make it harder to get pregnant. They have thicker cervical mucus, which is harder for sperm to travel through to reach the egg. But most women with CF who want to get pregnant are able to and can go on to have a normal pregnancy.

You can also have a normal, healthy sex life when you have CF. Keep in mind that you can still be at risk for unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). If you’re not ready to have children or you’re with a partner who hasn’t been tested for STDs, always use birth control, such as condoms.

Further reading: When does cystic fibrosis qualify for disability?

Show Sources


Mayo Clinic: “Cystic Fibrosis.”

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: “Germs and Staying Healthy,” “Why Are Some Germs Particularly Dangerous for People With CF?” “How Can You Reduce the Risk of Cross-infection?” “8 Ways to Guard Against Germs in Everyday Life,” Why Fitness Matters,” “Germs and the Gym,” “Nutritional Basics,” “Anxiety and CF,” “Depression and CF,” “Fertility in Men With CF,” “Fertility in Women With CF,” “Reproductive Health and Fertility.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Living with Cystic Fibrosis.”

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