Cystic fibrosis is related to many symptoms throughout the body. The most profoundly affected systems have problems due to the build up of thick, sticky mucus.
The Respiratory Tract is the most notably affected organ since the buildup of mucus makes it difficult to breath and must constantly be treated and coughed out. The mucus is a great environment for opportunistic bacterial lungs infections, which is the principal reason for decline in lung function of people with cystic fibrosis.
The Digestive System is also subject to many symptoms of mucus blockage. It blocks pancreatic enzymes from reaching the intestines which can lead to the food matter building up and causing intestinal blockage which can be painful and requires treatment to pass. Blood sugar can also be affected due to cystic fibrosis’ involvement with the pancreas and limiting insulin production or the body’s ability to process insulin correctly.
The Sinuses are also easily affected by the increased thickness and stickiness of mucus. This, like the lungs, promotes opportunistic bacterial infections. People with cystic fibrosis often have chronic sinusitis and sinus infections throughout their lives.
The most immediate symptom of cystic fibrosis in the lungs is that it makes breathing more difficult. The buildup of mucus blocks the airways and lines the walls of the lungs, making it more difficult to draw oxygen from each breath. A common analogy to the way cystic fibrosis restricts lung function is that it feels like breathing through a straw.
The buildup of mucus also affects the lungs in more severe ways. The thick mucus associated with cystic fibrosis provides an environment that is easily infected by certain bacteria. The most common opportunistic infection is Pseudomonas aeruginosa. These infections often become chronic (occur frequently) and are actually the main cause of health decline and death in people with cystic fibrosis.
There are a lot of ways that cystic fibrosis affect the digestive system. Pancreatic enzymes get blocked from entering the intestines and breaking down food. This leads to the other problems in the digestive tract. The undigested food can lead to intestinal blockage, which can be very painful. And malabsorption can prevent the body from getting the nutrients it needs, making it difficult to maintain healthy weight.
Since excess chloride (salt) is so prevalent in the sweat of people with cystic fibrosis, it is the first line of testing to determine if a person has CF. Ordinarily, people are recommended to refrain from salt for their health, but people with cystic fibrosis are actually encouraged to eat foods and snacks with high salt contents to replace the salt they lose from sweating.
The main reason that this loss of salt is so important to keep in consideration is because it prevents your body from telling you that it is dehydrated (thirsty). Your body doesn’t monitor hydrations by checking how much water it has. It checks hydration by checking the balance of salt to water in your cells. If salt levels are not properly maintained, your body will misinterpret low salt AND water levels and being fine and you will become dangerously dehydrated.
This is why it is so important for people with CF to always stay hydrated and maintain their salt levels with their diet.
Learn more about Cystic Fibrosis with us
Cystic fibrosis is often associated with chronic lung and sinus infections. Chronic lung infection is the leading cause of death in cystic fibrosis.
Mucus buildup can block pancreatic enzymes from reaching the digestive tract and causes food matter to build up and block the intestines. Preventing and managing this blockage is important to staying healthy.
One of the most common symptoms of cystic fibrosis is the buildup of mucus in the airways. In this article, we outline a number of Airway Clearance Techniques (ACT’s) that are some of the most effective strategies for clearing this mucus from the airways.
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