Cystic Fibrosis in Children

child blowing a dandelion

Cystic Fibrosis, or CF, is a genetic condition that causes a patient to produce abnormally excessive amounts of sweat and mucus. Cystic fibrosis may cause serious complications and early detection and treatment are crucial to prolonging and enhancing the life of a CF patient. Fortunately, all infants born in the United States are tested for CF, so cases are almost always identified within the first month of life. There is no cure for CF at this time, but recent advancements have prolonged the average lifespan of CF patients. A mere sixty years ago, children with CF rarely made it to elementary school. Children born with CF are now expected to live into their 40s – or beyond.

Often the first sign of CF that a parent or caretaker notices is a salty taste to the baby’s skin when kissing the baby. As the child grows, the condition may begin to affect other parts of the body, most commonly the respiratory or digestive systems. Some common symptoms may include:

  • Chronic wheezing

  • Chronic coughing, which may be accompanied by thick sputum

  • Frequent lung infections, sinus infections, or bronchitis

  • Delayed growth or low body weight

  • Frequent constipation

  • Frequent greasy or bulky stools

  • Nasal polyps, or fleshy growths in the lining of the nose

  • Clubbed fingers or toes, or the far ends of the digits becoming enlarged

  • Coughing up blood

  • Abdominal pain

  • Excessive gas

  • Persistent diarrhea

  • Foul-smelling stool

Cystic fibrosis may also lead to a number of serious conditions, such as liver problems, diabetes, pancreatitis, rectal prolapse (in which a small part of the rectum forces its way out of the anus), cor pulmonale (failure of the right side of the heart), or collapsed lung.

It is routine for children born in the United States to receive cystic fibrosis testing shortly after birth, meaning that most cases are discovered before symptoms develop. If your child shows symptoms of cystic fibrosis despite a negative result, however, your pediatrician may wish to perform further tests. If your child is diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, whether at birth or later in life, he or she will likely be referred to a CF treatment specialist, who will help determine the best course of action for treating your child’s condition.

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