WHATS IS CYSTIC FIBROSIS (CF)?
In people with CF, a defective gene (mutation) causes a thick, buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. In the lungs, the mucus clogs the airways and traps bacteria leading to infections, extensive lung damage and eventually, respiratory failure. In the pancreas the mucus prevents the release of digestive enzymes that allow the body to break down food and absorb vital nutrients, produce insulin, and secrete bicarbonate.
SYMPTOMS OF CF
People with CF can have a variety of symptoms, including:
- Very salty-tasting skin
- Persistent coughing, at times with phlegm
- Frequent lung infections including pneumonia or bronchitis
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Poor growth or weight gain in spite of a good appetite
- Frequent greasy, bulky stools or difficulty with bowel movements
- Male infertility
DIAGNOSIS AND GENETICS
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease. People with CF have inherited two copies of the defective CF gene — one copy from each parent. Both parents must have at least one copy of the defective gene in order to have a child that expresses CF as a dominant gene. People with only one copy of the recessive mutated CF gene are called carriers, but they do not have the disease (approximately 1 in 23 of the general population . . . that is 12 million people!). Each time two CF carriers have a child, the chances are:
- 25 percent (1 in 4) the child will have CF
- 50 percent (1 in 2) the child will be a carrier but will not have CF
- 25 percent (1 in 4) the child will not be a carrier and will not have CF
The CF mutation contains a slight abnormality called a mutation. There are more than 1,800 known mutations of the disease. Most genetic tests only screen for the most common CF mutations.
IN THE UNITED STATES
- About 30,000 people are living with cystic fibrosis (70,000 worldwide).
- Approximately 1,000 new cases of CF are diagnosed each year.
- More than 75 percent of people with CF are diagnosed by age 2.
- Almost half of the CF population is over 18.
Cystic fibrosis is a complex disease and the types and severity of symptoms can differ widely from person to person. Many different factors, such as age of diagnosis, can affect an individual’s health and the course of the disease.
People with cystic fibrosis are at greater risk of getting lung infections because thick, sticky mucus builds up in their lungs, allowing germs to thrive and multiply. Lung infections, caused mostly by bacteria, are a serious and chronic problem for many people living with the disease. Minimizing contact with germs is a top concern for people with CF.
The buildup of mucus in the pancreas can also stop the absorption of food and key nutrients, resulting in malnutrition and poor growth. In the liver, the thick mucus can block the bile duct, causing liver disease. In men, CF can affect their ability to have children if the vas deferens duct is also clogged or under developed.
Breakthrough treatments have added years to the lives of people with cystic fibrosis. Today the life expectancy of a person with CF is 50+ years of age. This is a dramatic improvement from the 1950s, when a child with CF rarely lived long enough to attend elementary school.
Because of tremendous advancements in research and care, many people with CF are living long enough to realize their dreams of attending college, pursuing careers, getting married and having kids. While there has been significant progress in treating this disease, there is still no cure and too many lives are cut far too short.
Each day, people with CF complete a combination of the following therapies:
- Airway clearance to help loosen and get rid of the thick mucus that can build up in the lungs. Some airway clearance techniques require help from family members, friends or respiratory therapists. Many people with CF use an inflatable compressive vest that vibrates the chest at a high frequency to help loosen and thin mucus.
- Inhaled medicines to open the airways or thin the mucus. These are liquid medicines that are made into a mist or aerosol and then inhaled through a nebulizer. These medicines include antibiotics to fight lung infections and therapies to help keep the airways clear.
- Pancreatic enzyme supplement capsules to improve the absorption of vital nutrients. These supplements are taken with every meal and most snacks. People with CF also usually take multivitamins.
- Short and/or long acting insulin to manage CF Related Diabetes (CFRD) which is a hybrid of Type I & II diabetes.
- The CF Foundation supports research to discover and develop new CF treatments that may dramatically improve the everyday lives of CF patients.
Today, the CF Foundation is focused on developing lifesaving new therapies for larger numbers of people with CF and pursuing daring, new opportunities to one day develop a lifelong cure.