Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis in Adults

Understand the symptoms of cystic fibrosis in adults

Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary disease that can cause severe harm to the digestive system, lungs, and can also severely affect other organs in the body. The disease is complex and the types and intensity of symptoms can vary. Continue reading to better understand the symptoms of cystic fibrosis in adults.

Many aspects such as the age of diagnosis can make an impact on the severity of the disease.

Cystic fibrosis limits the capability of otherwise healthy people to breathe normally. A defective gene is inherited from each parent that causes mucus to build up thick in the pancreas and lungs. Mucus obstructs the airways and causes bacteria to be trapped, which triggers infections and lung damage. Cystic fibrosis can ultimately result in respiratory failure.

Symptoms of cystic fibrosis in adults

Symptoms of cystic fibrosis in adults: In the United States, all newborns are assessed for cystic fibrosis. The disease can be diagnosed as early as one month old, in some cases long before symptoms begin to develop. People who were born prior to the newborn screening should be mindful of the symptoms of cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis causes people to have a much higher level of salt in their sweat than what is considered normal. When kissing their children, parents will likely be able to taste salt. Other symptoms mostly affect the digestive and respiratory systems. Adults that are diagnosed with cystic fibrosis can often have symptoms that are not normal. Atypical symptoms that affect adults with cystic fibrosis include recurring pneumonia and pancreatitis.

The following are symptoms of cystic fibrosis in adults:

Respiratory system symptoms

  • Stubborn cough, sometimes with phlegm
  • Lung infections are recurrent, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing

Airways are often blocked by sticky mucus when cystic fibrosis is involved. The excess mucus causes bacteria to grow and fester infections. Lung infections are common and are not usually affected by antibiotics. Sinusitis is an infection of the sinuses and is a frequent symptom of cystic fibrosis. Pneumonia and bronchitis in frequent spells can also be symptoms.

The severity of the problems can grow more intense as cystic fibrosis intensifies. Pneumothorax and pneumonia are serious problems that can cause long-term respiratory damage.

Digestive system symptoms

  • Poor weight gain or growth despite a healthy appetite
  • Bowel movements are frequent, bulky, or greasy

Cystic fibrosis can create blocks in the pancreas due to mucus build up. These blockages stop enzymes from reaching the intestines. This causes the intestines to not fully absorb proteins and fats, which can result in diarrhea. These issues can result in stomach aches and pains.

Other symptoms

Symptoms of cystic fibrosis in adults:

  • Infertility in males
  • Skin is extremely salty-tasting

Males who have cystic fibrosis are born without a vans deferens, the tube that delivers the sperm, which causes them to be infertile. Other symptoms arise from an imbalance of minerals in the blood.

Sweat becomes highly salty with cystic fibrosis, and therefore large quantities of salt are lost through sweat. Dehydration is a cause of this as well as decreased blood pressure, heat stroke, fatigue, and weakness.

Low bone density and clubbing are also caused by cystic fibrosis. Clubbing is a deformity of the tips of fingers and toes because the lungs cannot pump enough oxygen into the bloodstream.

Diagnosis of cystic fibrosis

Symptoms can fluctuate in their intensity even in the same person over time. Certain people may find they do not experience symptoms until teenage years or adulthood.

Genetic and sweat tests may be recommended for those who were not screened at birth who have pancreatitis, long-lasting sinus or lung infections, male infertility, or bronchiectasis.

Treatments for cystic fibrosis

Advanced treatments have been developed that add many years to the lives of those diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. The anticipated survival age today is close to 40. In the 1950s, a child diagnosed with the disease would not likely live to attend elementary school. Incredible developments in research on the disease have allowed patients to go to college, have careers, get married, and have their own kids. There is still, unfortunately, no cure for cystic fibrosis, however, and many lives are still tragically lost to the disease.

A specialist will likely treat those with cystic fibrosis along with physical therapists, social workers, and medical nurses. Learning as much as possible about the disease can help patients to manage it. Those diagnosed with cystic fibrosis can learn more about managing it with the close care of a physician.

Last Reviewed:
July 24, 2017
Last Updated:
October 11, 2017
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