Early Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis
One of the most common early symptoms of cystic fibrosis is meconium ileus, which is an intestinal blockage that occurs shortly after birth. Other common early symptoms of cystic fibrosis include salty-tasting skin, ongoing diarrhea, and frequent coughing or wheezing.
Cystic fibrosis symptoms vary from person to person. An individual with mild cystic fibrosis may not experience any early symptoms. In this case, symptoms may not occur until adolescence or adulthood.
Common early symptoms of cystic fibrosis may include:
- Meconium ileus, an intestinal blockage that occurs shortly after birth.
- Salty-tasting skin.
- Ongoing diarrhea or bulky, foul-smelling, and greasy stools.
- Huge appetite but poor weight gain and growth. This is called "failure to thrive." It is a result of chronic malnutrition.
- Frequent coughing or wheezing.
Normally, mucus is watery. It keeps the linings of certain organs moist and prevents them from drying out or getting infected. However, in cystic fibrosis, an abnormal gene, called the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene causes mucus to become thick and sticky. The thick, sticky mucus builds up in your lungs and blocks the airways. This makes it easy for bacteria to grow and leads to repeated serious lung infections. Over time, these infections can cause serious damage to your lungs.
The thick, sticky mucus can also block tubes, or ducts, in your pancreas. As a result, digestive enzymes that are produced by your pancreas cannot reach your small intestine. These digestive enzymes help break down the food you eat. Without them, your intestines cannot absorb fats and proteins fully.
As a result of cystic fibrosis:
- Nutrients leave your body unused, and you can become malnourished
- Your stools become bulky
- You may not get enough vitamin A, D, E, or K
- You may have intestinal gas, a swollen belly, and pain or discomfort.
The abnormal cystic fibrosis gene also causes your sweat to become extremely salty. As a result, when you perspire, your body loses large amounts of salt. The loss of salt can upset the balance of minerals in your blood, which may cause you to have a heat emergency.