Cystic fibrosis 

Introduction 

Cystic fibrosis: Lauren's story

Cystic fibrosis is the most common inherited disorder in the UK. In this video, 14-year-old Lauren Hutchins talks about living with the disorder.

Media last reviewed: 21/10/2013

Next review due: 21/10/2015

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust

The UK’s leading charity for people affected by cystic fibrosis is the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Their website contains a range of useful information, an online forum and news items about ongoing research into cystic fibrosis.

The charity also operates a helpline: 0300 373 1000; which is available from 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Special needs in children

If your child has a health condition or disability, they may need specialised healthcare and help at school

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition in which the lungs and digestive system become clogged with thick sticky mucus.

Symptoms usually start in early childhood and include:

  • persistent cough
  • recurring chest and lung infections
  • poor weight gain

Symptoms of cystic fibrosis usually become apparent in the first year of life.

An early sign is that an affected child’s sweat is unusually salty, which can be noticeable when you kiss your child.

Read more about the symptoms of cystic fibrosis.

Treating cystic fibrosis

There is no cure for cystic fibrosis. So the aim of treatment is to ease the symptoms and make the condition easier to live with. Treatment can also prevent or reduce long-term damage caused by infections and other complications.

Treatment options include:

  • bronchodilators – which are a type of medication that helps expand the airways inside the lungs making it easier to breathe
  • antibiotics – to treat chest and lung infections
  • physiotherapy – there are a range of exercises that can help clear mucus from the lungs

In some cases a lung transplant may be required if the lungs become extensively damaged.

Read more about treating cystic fibrosis.

What causes cystic fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis is caused by a genetic mutation; specifically a mutation in a gene called CFTR. A genetic mutation is when the instructions found in all living cells become scrambled in some way, meaning that one or more of the processes of the body do not work in the way they should.

The CFTR mutation allows too much salt and water into cells. This results in a build-up of thick, sticky mucus in the body's tubes and passageways. These blockages damage the lungs, digestive system and other organs, resulting in the symptoms of cystic fibrosis.

Read more about the causes of cystic fibrosis.

Who is affected

Cystic fibrosis is most common in white people of northern European descent.

It is estimated that 1 in every 2,500 babies born in the UK will be born with cystic fibrosis and there are over 9,000 people living with the condition in this country.

The condition is much less common in other ethnic groups.

Screening

Babies are screened for cystic fibrosis at birth as part of the NHS newborn screening programme.

A small amount of the baby's blood is taken by a heel prick and transferred onto a card. The blood sample on the card is then analysed in the laboratory for cystic fibrosis and other inherited conditions, such as sickle cell anaemia.

Read more about screening for cystic fibrosis.

Outlook

In previous years most children with cystic fibrosis would die of related complications before reaching adulthood.

The outlook has improved considerably in recent years due to advancements in treatment, although most people with cystic fibrosis will have a shorter than average life expectancy. However, this may well improve in the future.

Page last reviewed: 22/03/2012

Next review due: 22/03/2014

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