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Cystic Fibrosis Symptoms & Complications

Wed, 12/30/2015 - 11:30 -- IV Solutions

For patients and their caregivers, a step toward managing cystic fibrosis is understanding the symptoms.

At IV Solutions, we’re here to help you sort through the basic cystic fibrosis symptoms in a few short minutes.

In-depth articles are also available on each topic when you’re ready to learn more.

What is Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease. When a person has CF, their body produces thickermucus. This mucus builds up and blocks the pathways inside the body, causing organ problems.

  •  Cystic fibrosis is not contagious.
  •  There is currently no cure for cystic fibrosis, but there are treatments for its symptoms.
  •  Early detection and improved treatments help people with CF lead full, satisfying lives.

Early Detection of Cystic Fibrosis

With issues of cystic fibrosis and pregnancy, early detection is essential. Fortunately,newborns are screened for CF—often before they leave the hospital. A healthcare provider usesa few drops of blood from the baby’s heel to test for CF and other conditions. This might lead to a diagnostic test. One diagnostic test for CF is a sweat test, a painless way to measure the amount of salt in a baby’s sweat. A baby with cystic fibrosis will have more salt in his sweat. Your provider might also order a genetic test.

Important Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis

The major symptoms of cystic fibrosis happen in the lungsdigestive system, and sweat glands. Below is a brief list of symptoms by each organ.

Cystic Fibrosis and the Lungs

  • Coughing that produces sputum (mucus or phlegm that is coughed out)
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent infections of the nose, throat, and lungs

Cystic Fibrosis and the Digestive System

(Stomach, Intestines, Pancreas)

  • Stomach pain from constipation or gas
  • Eating more than enough but not gaining weight, or “failure to thrive”
  • Diarrhea or thick, tarry, foul-smelling stools

Cystic Fibrosis and the Sweat Glands

  • Sweat that tastes salty
  • Problems staying hydrated (having enough water in the body)

Other Cystic Fibrosis Complications

The problems we’ve discussed can create other CF complications. Patients and caregivers can prepare for these problems and work together to avoid them.

Cystic Fibrosis-Related Diabetes (CFRD)

Cystic Fibrosis-Related Diabetes (CFRD) is a special form of diabetes. It only affects people with CF, and is very common as patients grow older. Diabetes is related to insulin, a hormone the body uses to move sugar where it needs to go. CFRD develops when the pancreas becomes scarred and has trouble making insulin, and the body has trouble using the insulin.

Chronic Sinus and Lung Infection

It is easier for a person with CF to get infections. With cystic fibrosis, sinus infections can cause sinusitis, a swelling of the area behind the eyes, nose, and forehead. Constant inflammation can create growths in the nose called polyps.

Because of the thick mucus produced by cystic fibrosis, lung infections are difficult to treat. The frequency of infections weakens the lung tissue. This damage causes chest pain and breathing difficulties, and can possibly lead to a collapsed lung.

Cystic Fibrosis and Heartburn

Most people with CF suffer from heartburn, or Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The pain of heartburn is caused by stomach acid damaging the lining of the throat. Left untreated, GERD can lead to worse breathing problems for people with CF.

Cystic Fibrosis and Bone Disease

People with CF have trouble absorbing calcium and vitamin D, which can lead to problems with their bones.

  • Weakened bones (osteopenia and the more severe osteoporosis)
  • Higher risk of broken bones
  • Painful joints (arthritis)

For those wishing to know more, IV Solutions has a summary of the many cystic fibrosis treatments available.


What are the Signs and Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis? UNM Hospitals. Accessed March 12, 2015.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis? National Institutes of Health. December 26, 2013. Accessed March 12, 2015.

How Cystic Fibrosis Affects Breathing and the Lungs. WebMD. July 18, 2013.  Accessed March 12, 2015.

Lyczak J, Cannon C, and Pier G. Lung Infections Associated with Cystic Fibrosis. National Center for Biotechnology Information. April 15, 2002.  Accessed March 12, 2015.

How Cystic Fibrosis Affects Digestion and the Pancreas. WebMD. July 18, 2013. Accessed March 12, 2015.

How Cystic Fibrosis Affects the Sweat Glands. WebMD. July 18, 2013. Accessed March 12, 2015.

Cystic Fibrosis-Related Diabetes. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. May 16, 2012. Accessed March 12, 2015.

Aanæs K. Bacterial sinusitis can be a focus for initial lung colonisation and chronic lung infection in patients with cystic fibrosis. National Center for Biotechnology Information. September 12, 2013. Accessed March 12, 2015.

Scott R, O’Loughlin E, and Gall D. Gastroesophageal reflux in patients with cystic fibrosis. National Center for Biotechnology Information. February, 1985. Accessed March 12, 2015.

Characteristics of gastroesophageal reflux in adults with cystic fibrosis. Sabati A, Kempainen R, Milla C, Ireland M, Schwarzenberg S, Dunitz J, and Khan K. June 23, 2010. Accessed March 12, 2015.

How Cystic Fibrosis Affects the Bones. June 15, 2011. Accessed March 12, 2015.