Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease of the mucus and sweat glands. It affects mostly the lungs, pancreas, liver, intestines, sinuses, and sex organs.
Normally, mucus is watery. It keeps the linings of certain organs moist and prevents them from drying out or getting infected. But in cystic fibrosis, an abnormal gene causes mucus to become abnormally thick and sticky.
The build up of mucus is dangerous because it blocks the airways, making it easier for bacteria to grow. Overtime, it can lead to serious lung infections and cause serious damage to the lungs.
Thick, sticky mucus can also block tubes, or ducts, in the pancreas. As a result, digestive enzymes that are produced by the pancreas cannot reach the small intestine. These enzymes help break down food and without them, the intestines cannot absorb fats and proteins efficiently or completely.
Unused nutrients are excreted from the body, resulting in malnutrition.
Frequent intestinal gas, pain or discomfort in the stomach area.
Cystic fibrosis also causes sweat to become abnormally salty. The body can lose large amounts of salt during perspiration, upsetting the balance of minerals in the blood and leading to unstable body temperature.
Cystic fibrosis can also cause infertility in men.
The symptoms and severity of cystic fibrosis vary from person to person. Some people with cystic fibrosis have serious lung and digestive problems. Other people have a milder version of the disease. Respiratory failure is the most common cause of death resulting from cystic fibrosis.