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Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis can affect the gastrointestinal tract


Cystic fibrosis (CF) is most commonly considered a disease that affects the lungs, but cystic fibrosis also affects the pancreas and digestive system, among other body systems. For patients with cystic fibrosis, getting adequate nutrition is essential for quality of life.


There are varied symptoms of CF. The respiratory system is largely affected where mucus build-up can cause persistent coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, combined with an increased risk of respiratory infections, and chronic inflammation of the lungs. Mucus can also affect the digestive system, causing a deficit of enzymes released by the pancreas that aid in digestion. The result is reduced absorption of nutrients, greasy and bulky stools, potential intestinal blockage, as well as poor weight gain and delayed growth in infants and children. People with CF are also at higher risk of diabetes. Other challenges include reproductive problems in both men and women, excessive salt content of a person’s sweat, and lower bone density.


People with CF need to consider important lifestyle changes to protect their health, including up to date vaccines that help prevent respiratory infections, avoiding smoke, frequent hand washing, and increased calorie and nutritional intake. As mucus buildup can prevent proper absorption of nutrients, eating a high-calorie, high-fat and high-protein diet can help prevent decreased weight gain and slow growth in infants. Taking prescribed enzymes with food has been an important means for improving digestion and absorption in patients with CF. Staying well hydrated and getting sufficient levels of salt are both important, as the changes in the secretory function cause more salt to be excreted in the sweat.