Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic condition which affects 1 in 2,500 people in the UK and it causes the lungs and digestive system to become clogged with thick, sticky mucus. The symptoms of CF include reoccurring chest infections, difficulty putting on weight, frequent coughing and persistent diarrhoea. Children with CF can also develop related conditions such as diabetes and liver problems.
There are a range of treatments available to ease the problems caused by CF and advances in the understanding and treatment of CF means that it isn’t the barrier to a happy and successful life, as long as it’s managed properly. Also, life expectancy rates are increasing all the time as research progresses.
While CF can be detected very early in life, usually through the new-born blood spot test, where a drop of blood is taken from the baby’s heel and checked for abnormalities, no-one can pinpoint exactly when the symptoms of CF will kick in. In most people, the symptoms begin in early childhood, however in some, they may even not become apparent until teenage years or adulthood.
The genetics of cystic fibrosis
Medical science has isolated the root causes of CF: a flawed gene that affects our cells’ ability to move salt and water through their walls (which cause the proliferation of mucus). The child with CF inherits both copies of the faulty gene – one from each parent.
Treatment for cystic fibrosis
In the UK, all children with CF must be managed by a full multidisciplinary team (including respiratory consultant, physiotherapist, nurse specialist, dietician and psychologist) and seen regularly. Children with CF can be on a number of medications which can include tablets to absorb the fat in food, antibiotics to prevent and treat chest infections, and medicines to widen the airways, make mucus easier to cough up and reduce inflammation. In many cases, they will be on a high-calorie diet, as well as take additional supplements to improve weight gain and growth.
Life with cystic fibrosis can appear to be very challenging, but thousands of people in the UK are living full lives and are able to work and function as normal, as long as they stay aware of their situation, draw upon the support network that are available, and stay positive and focused.