The symptoms of cystic fibrosis vary between individuals. Most affected individuals show symptoms at a young age, particularly very salty skin in newborns. However, some people may only begin to show symptoms in their teens or early 20s.
Common respiratory symptoms include persistent coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, inflamed nasal passages and exercise intolerance. The thick sticky mucus causes frequent lung infections, including pneumonia and bronchitis. These persistent lung infections lead to damage to the lung tissue and airways (bronchiectasis) making it more difficult to clear excess mucus. The airway walls eventually become thinner so affected adults and teenagers will often cough up blood (hemoptysis). Pneumothorax, where air collects in the space between the lungs and the chest wall, is also common in affected adults. All of these respiratory problems lead to severely decreased lung function.
The thick mucus and digestive fluids that occur in cystic fibrosis patients, can block digestive enzymes produced in the pancreas from reaching the intestines. This results in poor digestion and absorption of nutrients, leading to poor growth and weight gain. Chronic diarrhea and severe constipation can both occur with foul-smelling, greasy stools. Bowel obstructions, known as meconium ileus occur in 10-15% of affected people.
Most affected people have excessively salty skin and sweat. Other symptoms can include pancreatitis, liver problems, gallstones and diabetes. The thick, sticky mucus can also accumulate in the reproductive system leading to infertility in men and decreased fertility in women. Due to a significantly decreased nutrient absorption, other complications, including osteoporosis, are common in cystic fibrosis patients.
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Cystic Fibrosis Foundation