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Cystic fibrosis (CF)

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that mostly affects the lungs and digestive system. It results from a fault in a particular gene. As a result, the mucus produced by the lungs and intestines to be thick and sticky.

Cystic fibrosis is a recessive genetic disorder, meaning that both parents must carry the faulty cystic fibrosis gene for the disease to be passed to their child.

Cystic fibrosis is usually detected in newborn babies through a neonatal screening test, known as the heel prick test.

This free test involves pricking the heel of the baby to gain a tiny blood sample and detects up to 95% of babies with cystic fibrosis.

If a baby has a positive heel prick test, it should then have a sweat test at about 6 weeks old to see if it either has the disorder, or is a healthy carrier of the faulty gene.

Adults who have cystic fibrosis in their family can have genetic counselling and blood tests to see if they carry the gene for cystic fibrosis.

Most people with cystic fibrosis have:

  • chest problems such as cough, wheeze and recurrent chest infections
  • digestive problems and bulky, fatty stools
  • very salty sweat.

They may also have lung damage, malnutrition, poor growth and diabetes. Almost all men and most women with cystic fibrosis are infertile.

The lives of people with cystic fibrosis are usually shortened by the disorder, but they can lead happy and productive lives well into middle age.

While cystic fibrosis cannot be cured, physiotherapy and many other treatments are available to improve quality of life and reduce complications.

Last reviewed: November 2016

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