Cystic Fibrosis Home > Cystic Fibrosis Symptoms

The cystic fibrosis symptoms a person experiences can range in severity from mild symptoms to serious problems with the lungs and digestive system. Common symptoms of the condition include frequent coughing, frequent bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia, salty-tasting skin, and dehydration. These symptoms can also lead to other medical conditions, including sinusitis, pancreatitis, and diabetes.

An Overview of Cystic Fibrosis Signs and Symptoms

Cystic fibrosis symptoms vary from person to person. Severe symptoms of the disease can include serious lung and digestive problems, while mild cystic fibrosis symptoms usually do not occur until adolescence or adulthood.

What Causes the Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis?

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 damage 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.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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