Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder, which means you get if from your parents at birth. It affects the way your body makes mucus, a substance that helps your organs and systems work.


  • Trouble with bowel movements or frequent, greasy stools

  • Wheezing or trouble breathing

  • Frequent lung infections

  • Infertility, especially in men

  • Trouble growing or gaining weight

  • Skin that tastes very salty


  • Cystic fibrosis is caused by a change, or mutation, in a gene called CFTR (cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator). This gene controls the flow of salt and fluids in and out of your cells.

  • If the CFTR gene doesn’t work the way it should, a sticky mucus builds up in your body.

  • To get CF, you have to inherit the mutated copy of the gene from both of your parents. Ninety percent of those with affected have at least one copy of the F508del mutation.

  • If you inherit only one copy, you won’t have any symptoms, but you will be a carrier of the disease. That means there’s a chance you could pass it to your children.

  • About 10 million Americans are CF carriers. Every time two CF carriers have a baby, there’s a 25% (1 in 4) chance that their baby will be born with CF.


  • Blood test: This test checks the levels of immunoreactive trypsinogen (IRT). People with CF have higher levels of it in their blood.
  • DNA test: This looks for mutations to the CFTR gene.
  • Sweat test: It measures the salt in your sweat. Higher than normal results suggest CF.



Your doctor may give you drugs to open your airways, thin mucus, prevent infections, and help your body get nutrients from food. These include:


They can prevent or treat lung infections and help your lungs work better. You might get them as pills, in an inhaler, or in a shot.

Anti-inflammatory medicines

These include ibuprofen and corticosteroids.


You’ll get these from an inhaler. They’ll relax and open your airways.

Mucus thinners

They’ll help you get the gunk out of your airways. You’ll get them from an inhaler.

CFTR modulators

These help CFTR work like it should. They can make your lungs work better and help you gain weight.

Combination therapy

The new medication elexacaftor/ivacaftor/tezacaftor (Trikafta) combines three CFTR modulators to target the CFTR protein and make it work for efficiently.

Airway clearance techniques

These can help get rid of mucus. You might try:

Chest therapy or percussion

This involves tapping or clapping on your chest or back to clear mucus from your lungs. Someone else does this for you.

Oscillating devices

You breathe into a special device that oscillates, or vibrates, your airways. This loosens mucus and makes it easier to cough up

You can wear an oscillating chest vest instead.

Physical therapy for CF

This includes breathing exercises designed to push air between layers of mucus and your chest wall. They make it easier to cough up the gunk and ease blocked airways. Some common exercises include:

Autogenic drainage

To do this, you breathe out hard, or huff. This moves mucus from your smaller airways to the central airways and makes it easier to get out.

Active cycle of breathing

This controls your breath and relaxes the upper chest and shoulders, which can help clear mucus and prevent airway blockages. You breathe in deeply, hold it, and then huff for different lengths of time.



The thick mucus caused by CF blocks ducts in your pancreas. This stops proteins that break down your food, called digestive enzymes, from reaching your intestine. As a result, your body has a hard time getting the nutrients it needs. Over time, this can also lead to diabetes.


If the tubes that remove bile get clogged, your liver gets inflamed. This can lead to severe scarring called cirrhosis.

Small intestine

Because it can be hard to break down high-acid foods that come from your stomach, the lining of the small intestine can wear away.

Large intestine

The thick fluid in your stomach can make your poop large and harder to pass. This can lead to blockages. In some cases, your intestine may also start to fold in on itself like an accordion, a condition called intussusception.


Chronic or long-lasting coughing weakens your bladder muscles. Almost 65% of women with CF have stress incontinence. This means that you leak a little pee when you cough, sneeze, laugh, or lift something. Though it’s more common in women, men can have it, too.


Some people with CF get kidney stones. These small, hard globs of minerals can cause nausea, vomiting, and pain. If you don’t treat them, you could get a kidney infection.

diseases treatments health prevention respiratory-system disorders cystic-fibrosis

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