When Your Child Has Cystic Fibrosis (CF) - Fairview Health Services
 
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When Your Child Has Cystic Fibrosis (CF)

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a serious, chronic, inherited disorder. It can range from mild to severe. It is caused by a defect that leads to an imbalance in the flow of water and salt into and out of cells. Doctors usually diagnose this disease during the first two months of a child’s life.

What Parts of the Body Are Affected by Cystic Fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis often affects organs that put out fluid. This includes glands that produce mucus, tears, sweat, saliva, and digestive juices. Secretions become thicker, so they don’t flow as freely. This can cause blockages. Cystic fibrosis often affects the respiratory and digestive systems. In later years, it can also affect the reproductive system. In the lungs, thickened mucus can trap bacteria. This can lead to serious infections. In the digestive system, foods such as fats may not break down well. This can cause problems with absorbing nutrients. In later stages, your child may develop other medical conditions. These might include a high glucose level in the blood (diabetes), liver disease, or an inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis affects many systems and can cause a lot of signs and symptoms. Your child may have these symptoms:

Respiratory symptoms

  • Thick mucus in lungs (sputum)

  • Frequent coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath

  • Smelly or dark-colored mucus

  • Chronic lung or sinus infections

  • Fleshy growths in the nose, called nasal polyps

Digestive symptoms

  • Intestinal obstruction, preventing the passage of stool in a newborn (meconium ileus)

  • Chronic diarrhea with greasy, foul-smelling, large stools

  • Abdominal cramping or pain

  • Slow growth, malnutrition, or difficulty gaining weight despite a big appetite

Other symptoms

  • Salty skin

  • Enlarged ends of fingers and toes (clubbing)

How Is Cystic Fibrosis Diagnosed?

A blood test to screen for CF is given to babies in the first two weeks of life. If this test is positive, a sweat test is then done to confirm the diagnosis. The sweat test measures the amount of salt in a child’s sweat. People with cystic fibrosis have high levels of salt in their sweat. A sweat test is often the only test that’s needed for diagnosis. Your child may have other tests to evaluate his or her condition, including:

  • Blood tests to measure levels of vitamins and minerals or to check liver function

  • Chest x-rays to view the lungs

  • Lung (pulmonary) function tests to check breathing

  • Sputum cultures to check for lung infection

  • Stool evaluations to check for absorption of fat

  • DNA tests to confirm diagnosis, if needed

How Is Cystic Fibrosis Managed?

There is no cure for cystic fibrosis. Instead, the goal of treatment is to control your child’s symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. To manage cystic fibrosis, your child will likely need:

  • Medication to prevent or treat infections, open airways, or thin mucus

  • Enzymes to aid absorption of nutrients

  • Certain vitamins

  • Changes in diet, such as including extra calories and fluids

  • Chest physical therapy

  • Exercise

What Are the Long-Term Concerns?

People with cystic fibrosis live on average into their mid to late 30s. Improvements in treatment are extending lives even longer. Your child will need regular medical care for life. He or she will need to maintain regular contact with doctors and other healthcare providers, such as nutritionists. Your child may be able to use the services of a cystic fibrosis center, where there are healthcare providers trained in treating this disease.

Coping with Cystic Fibrosis

  • Many parents feel guilty that they have “passed along” CF. But your child’s health problems are not your fault. Since it does run in families, any other children you have should be tested for cystic fibrosis.

  • As with many chronic diseases, cystic fibrosis can seem to take over your life. Make sure to get support to help you cope. Ask your healthcare team or check the Internet for CF support groups. And, especially at the beginning, focus on getting through one day at a time. Talk with a social worker about ways to help your child manage the emotional and behavioral issues that can go along with this disease.

 

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