Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs in the body.
Cystic fibrosis affects the cells that produce mucus, sweat and digestive juices. These secreted fluids are normally thin and slippery. But in people with CF, a defective gene causes the secretions to become sticky and thick. Instead of acting as lubricants, the secretions plug up tubes, ducts and passageways, especially in the lungs and pancreas.
Although cystic fibrosis is progressive and requires daily care, people with CF are usually able to attend school and work. They often have a better quality of life than people with CF had in previous decades. Improvements in screening and treatments mean that people with CF now may live into their mid- to late 30s or 40s, and some are living into their 50s.
Cystic fibrosis signs and symptoms vary, depending on the severity of the disease. Even in the same person, symptoms may worsen or improve as time passes. Some people may not experience symptoms until their teenage years or adulthood. People who are not diagnosed until adulthood usually have milder disease and are more likely to have atypical symptoms, such as recurring bouts of an inflamed pancreas (pancreatitis), infertility and recurring pneumonia.