Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disorder primarily affecting the lungs; it is a long-term condition that results in excessive mucus generation. The symptoms it produces are highly variable, and they typically change over time. Currently, cystic fibrosis is detected in young babies through special screening tests, but it isn't always found this early. Those with the condition will find that they have many symptoms throughout life that can significantly affect their quality of life. However, there are ways to mitigate many of these symptoms, with a combination of medication, lifestyle adjustments, and dietary adjustments.
Symptoms are often noticeable straight after birth. Bowel blockages are very common, as is an overly salty taste to the skin. Parents often notice the latter when kissing their child. Typically, children don't gain weight as expected, and they may also have jaundice — although this is a very common condition that affects numerous babies, not just those with cystic fibrosis. Those who suspect their child has cystic fibrosis should consider asking for a medical screening to ensure that their little one gets the right treatment from an early age.
The lungs are a major organ in the body, but they are also most vulnerable to the mucus generated by cystic fibrosis. Because the tubes that absorb oxygen from the air are so fine, they can be blocked relatively easily. Furthermore, the mucus forms a fertile breeding ground for bacteria, resulting in illness. Chest infections and bronchial infections are very common, as a shortness of breath and a pronounced wheeze. Continuous infection can result in the lungs not working properly.
Cystic fibrosis often causes extensive damage to the digestive system as well. The sticky mucus can prevent food from passing smoothly to the body, and it may also prevent adequate digestion. Those with cystic fibrosis often end up with vitamin and mineral deficiencies and may also be technically malnourished, even if they are eating well.
Cystic fibrosis often causes trouble when attempting to conceive. For men, this difficulty is physical, because they don't have the canal that connects the testicles to the penis, the vas deferens. Because sperm cannot travel, they are essentially shooting blanks. This occurs in around 98 percent of men with cystic fibrosis. Women with this condition may find that the mucus that the condition generates blocks up various parts of their body. If the mucus forms in the cervix or the fallopian tubes, it can prevent sperm from physically interacting with the egg, a process that's required for conception.
Dehydration is a very common issue for those with cystic fibrosis. This is because it makes sweat extremely salty, so the body ends up losing much more water than normal. For those in milder climates, this isn't a major issue, but for those in hotter climates, it's very easy to become dehydrated. Those with cystic fibrosis are encouraged to drink plenty of water and talk to their healthcare provider about rehydration drinks that can help them replenish lost electrolytes.
Arthritis is often associated with cystic fibrosis, but there isn't currently enough evidence to conclusively link it. However, aches and pains are very common, even in childhood, as is swelling in various joints. In addition, osteoporosis is common, sometimes caused by repeated infections but also by malnutrition. Osteoporosis is essentially where the bone structure weakens thanks to a lack of calcium. There may be linked genetic factors that determine whether those with cystic fibrosis develop arthritis.
The sticky mucus associated with cystic fibrosis causes damage to bodily organs. In addition to creating blockages in the lungs and digestive system, it often affects the pancreas. The obstructions in the mucus causes prevent the intestines from receiving the enzymes they use to process proteins and fats. As a result, patients sometimes endure severe constipation and an excess of gas. They might also develop an extremely painful inflammation of the pancreas.
Liver disease is another potentially serious health issue. This is partly related to the malnutrition aspect of cystic fibrosis, but the condition also prevents liver enzymes from working properly. Mucus can also cause blockages in bile ducts, which can lead to scarring and tissue death as well, often known as cirrhosis. Liver infections are also common thanks to the extra mucus feeding unwanted bacteria.
Diabetes is often linked with lifestyle choices, but there are a significant number of people with type I diabetes: the genetic form. Cystic fibrosis is slightly different in that it causes damage to the pancreas, resulting in that organ not being able to reduce insulin properly. The result is hyperglycemia, which is when the body has too much sugar thanks to a lack of insulin. Typically, this symptom occurs during the teenage years.
Incontinence is one of the more frustrating and annoying symptoms of cystic fibrosis. Incontinence is where a person is unable to control their urine and some leaks out. Typically, this occurs during a coughing fit, but more severe issues of incontinence aren't uncommon. Some medications may help, but usually, the solution is to wear incontinence pads.
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