Cystic Fibrosis Symptoms and Complications

November 12, 2012

Cystic Fibrosis Symptoms and Complications

Cystic fibrosis or CF is a genetic disease caused by one defective gene. This defective gene causes the body to overproduce mucus to the point where a person with CF can choke on his or her own mucus. It is mostly diagnosed in teenagers and children, including newborns.

Although there is no vaccine or cure for CF, prospective parents can get tested for the defective gene. A child needs to pick up the gene from both parents in order to develop cystic fibrosis symptoms.

Symptoms in Newborns

If a newborn has not had its meconium or first bowel movement in 48 hours, they may have their blood and sweat tested for CF. Other cystic fibrosis symptoms in newborns or very young babies include failure to gain weight despite eating, failure to grow and skin that tastes very salty.

Newborns with cystic fibrosis symptoms eventually exhibit the most severe forms of the disease. They usually die from lung disease by the time they are 30. The older the child or teenager is before symptoms appear, the better their chances of getting a mild form of the disease.

Common Symptoms

Not everyone with CF will experience the same cystic fibrosis symptoms listed here. Some patients will have more severity than others. Common cystic fibrosis symptoms include:

  • Chronic cough, sometimes with blood and mucus

  • Constant production from the nose of extremely thick, sticky mucus

  • Passing feces covered in greasy-looking mucus or smell unusually bad

  • Passing pale tan or grey colored feces

  • Passing feces that float in the toilet water rather than sinks

  • Abdominal cramps and pain

  • Excessive gas

  • Distended abdomen, often because of the gas

  • Fingertips or toe tips become stubby shaped

  • Problems breathing

  • Feeling tired all of the time

Because the mucus attracts microorganism, the CF patient suffers from constant infections, including bronchitis, sinusitis or pneumonia. The mucus is difficult to cough up and so the patient has no choice but to swallow it. This causes problems in the stool and can cause symptoms of malnutrition.


CF causes or contributes to many other serious health problems because of the proliferation of mucus and the body’s inability to properly digest food. These complications include but are not limited to

  • Asthma

  • Lung disease and eventual lung failure

  • Infertility

  • Rupture of lung tissue, which can lead to often coughing up blood

  • Diabetes

  • Chronic pancreatitis

  • Chronic pneumonia

  • Liver disease

  • Gallstones

  • Predilection for intestinal blockages

  • Failure of the right side of the heart

  • Growth of polyps in the nose

  • Prolapsed rectum

  • Osteoarthritis

Despite these scary symptoms and complications, many children with cystic fibrosis wind up finishing school and eventually land a job. Many also get college degrees and find an exercise program they enjoy, such as swimming. They learn to cope with their symptoms by avoiding situations that can get them coughing, such as entering a smoke-filled room. Many need their lungs drained of mucus and excess fluid several times a day.

Tags: ,

Category: Articles