Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that affects the way the body produces sweat, digestive fluids, and mucus. The main symptoms of CF are problems with the lungs, sweat glands, and digestive system. Today we will focus on the digestive system.
In the digestive system, cystic fibrosis causes a number of problems, such as malnutrition, bowel obstruction, greasy stools, and liver disease. Other issues can develop, like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD).
How Cystic Fibrosis Affects the Digestive System
The mucus produced by cystic fibrosis clogs the pancreas and damages it over time. The pancreas creates the digestive chemicals, called enzymes, that break down your food so your body can absorb the nutrients. Not having enough digestive enzymes cause several problems.
Malnutrition is when the body doesn’t get enough nutrients. If you have CF, you can be eating the same amount of food as most people, but your body won’t get enough of the nutrients it needs. Enzymes are needed to get the calories, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fat out of the food you eat. Without those nutrients, you won’t be able to maintain a healthy weight or have the energy you need. For children with CF, malnutrition can cause problems with development and growth.
Because you aren’t digesting food properly, you might get bowel obstructions from large stools and irritation of the bowels. These obstructions can cause constipation and discomfort.
People with CF will often have dark, greasy stools. This is because your body isn’t absorbing enough fat from food, so it passes through the body.
The liver creates bile, a fluid that helps digest foods. It also processes toxins, or poisonous substances. CF can cause the liver to be clogged with mucus. The mucus in the liver makes it harder for bile to get where it needs to go. The clogged liver can also produce gallstones, which are an irritating object that forms in the gallbladder, an organ connected to the liver.
Another digestive problem experienced by those with CF is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux. If you have GERD, stomach acid will rise out of the stomach and into the throat. For people with CF, this happens because of coughing and other lung problems. GERD causes heartburn, regurgitation, and irritation of the throat. Left untreated, the stomach acid creates sores or scarring in the throat.
As people with CF get older, it isn’t unusual for them to develop cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD). Diabetes is a disease concerning insulin, a chemical your body needs to use sugar. CFRD is caused by a damaged pancreas not being able to develop enough insulin and the cells not absorbing the insulin as they should. If CFRD isn’t treated, it can cause serious problems, including organ failure.
Managing the Digestive Problems of Cystic Fibrosis
You can manage your digestive symptoms by taking enzyme capsules. The capsules provide the digestive chemicals the body is missing, allowing people with CF to eat anything other people can eat. People with CF may need to take enzyme capsules with every meal or snack, unless the snack is pure sugar, like a popsicle. Enzymes have an expiration date, so make sure your supply is fresh. Be sure to keep your enzyme capsules where they won’t get too hot, and plan ahead so you have your medication with you when you’re out and about.
Liver problems can be treated with medication. If the gallbladder develops gallstones, it can be removed without hurting digestion. Some people with CF might need to avoid alcohol or other substances to avoid liver damage, so talk with your doctor.
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is treatable with medication and diet. In some cases, surgery can repair the problems that cause GERD.
Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD) is treated with diet changes and insulin injections. By replacing the missing insulin, the body can use sugar the way it’s supposed to. Another treatment option is Metformin, a pill that makes the body more sensitive insulin.
Your doctor and nutritionist will help you find the right treatment for your cystic fibrosis-related digestive problems. Be sure to ask questions and talk with them about any concerns you have. With proper treatment and eating habits, you can enjoy eating food without worrying. Click the link to see IV Solutions’ products. For any questions regarding prescription availabilities, or our Vitamin Program for CF patients, please call 1-800-658-6046.
If you would like to know more about gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD), please explore the articles on our site.
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Cystic Fibrosis and the Digestive System. University of Rochester medical Center. Accessed March 17, 2015.
How Cystic Fibrosis Affects Digestion and the Pancreas – Topic Overview. WebMD. July 18, 2013. Accessed March 17, 2015.
Learn About the Digestive Tract. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. July 20, 2012. Accessed March 17, 2015.
Maguiness K, Casey S, Fulton J, Luder Elizabeth, McKenna A, and Hazle L. Nutrition: Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement In People With Cystic Fibrosis. 2006. Accessed March 17, 2015.
Use the Right GI Medications. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. July 20, 2012. Accessed March 17, 2015.
How is cystic fibrosis treated? MedicineNet.com. March 26, 2014. Accessed March 17, 2015.
Cystic Fibrosis-Related Diabetes. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. May 15, 2012. Accessed March 10, 2015.
Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease (GERD). Toronto Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centre.