Cystic fibrosis : Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Definition

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive tract. It is one of the most common chronic lung diseases in children and young adults, and may result in early death.

See also:

  • Cystic fibrosis – nutritional considerations
  • Neonatal cystic fibrosis screening

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is caused by a defective gene which causes the body to produce abnormally thick and sticky fluid, called mucus. This mucus builds up in the breathing passages of the lungs and in the pancreas, the organ that helps to break down and absorb food.

This collection of sticky mucus results in life-threatening lung infections and serious digestion problems. The disease may also affect the sweat glands and a man’s reproductive system.

Millions of Americans carry the defective CF gene, but do not have any symptoms. That’s because a person with CF must inherit two defective CF genes — one from each parent. An estimated 1 in 29 Caucasian Americans have the CF gene. The disease is the most common, deadly, inherited disorder affecting Caucasians in the United States. It’s more common among those of Northern or Central European descent.

Most children with CF are diagnosed by age 2. A small number, however, are not diagnosed until age 18 or older. These patients usually have a milder form of the disease.

Pictures & Images

Clubbing

Clubbing may result from chronic low blood-oxygen levels. This can be seen with cystic fibrosis, congenital cyanotic heart disease, and several other diseases. The tips of the fingers enlarge and the nails become extremely curved from front to back.

Postural drainage

Postural drainage

There are 6 to 12 positions a person with pulmonary disease may take to drain mucus from a certain part of the lungs. Another person may tap in certain areas to help loosen the mucus and allow it to be coughed out. Other ways to relieve the lung congestion of cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis include percussion vests and inhaled aerosols.

Clubbed fingers

Clubbed fingers

Clubbed fingers is a symptom of disease, often of the heart or lungs which cause chronically low blood levels of oxygen. Diseases which cause malabsorption, such as cystic fibrosis or celiac disease can also cause clubbing.

Cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is the most common cause of chronic lung disease in children and young adults, and the most common fatal hereditary disorder affecting Caucasians in the US.


Review Date : 5/11/2009
Reviewed By : Daniel Rauch, MD, FAAP. Director, Pediatric Hospitalist Program, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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