Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is the most common serious genetic condition in Australian children today, affecting one in every 2,500 babies.
CF primarily affects the lungs and digestive system. Consequently, when a person has CF their mucus glands secrete very thick sticky mucus. This mucus traps bacteria as it clogs tiny air passages in the lungs leading to infections inflammation, respiratory failure, and long term lung damage.
The pancreas, which releases enzymes that are needed to digest food is affected as well. People with CF must adjust their diet to accommodate the lack of nutrition.
There is currently no cure.
How do you get it?
CF is a genetically inherited condition and the CF gene must come from both parents. It occurs in both males and females. Consequently approximately one baby ever four days is born with cystic fibrosis.
In Australia, there is an average of one in 25 people carrying the gene. Most importantly, because CF carriers show no systems they do not know they have the gene and live perfectly normal lives.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis may include:
Persistent coughing, with great physical effort and at times with phlegm
Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
Muscle cramps as a result of the salt loss
Frequent trips to the toilet which include greasy, bulky stools
Difficulty with bowel movements
Poor weight gain and growth
You may have heard of the heel prick test. All newborn babies have a blood test (via heel prick) shortly after birth, called the newborn screening test. The test is used to screen for a number of conditions including cystic fibrosis.
Treatment for Cystic Fibrosis is highly specialised and intensive and will be required lifelong.
Chest physiotherapy to help clear the lungs
Antibiotics to treat infections
Nebuliser inhalations to help open the lungs
Enzyme replacement capsules with food to help digestion
Vitamins and salt supplements
Exercise to build strength and help keep the airways clear
Treatment is often daily and must go on around regular daily activities including school and work.
Screening for Cystic Fibrosis
Carriers are often not aware they have the genes. However, there are tests available – especially if you are planning pregnancy.