Cystic Fibrosis (CF), Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Life Expectancy

Cystic fibrosis and digestive system

As in the respiratory system, the thick sticky mucous of cystic fibrosis blocks the ducts that carry the digestive enzymes to the intestine. The liver and pancreas secrete these enzymes. These enzymes are necessary; without them, your body can’t absorb nutrients from your diet.

The digestive symptoms include:

  • Frequent bulky, greasy, and foul-smelling stool
  • Chronic constipation, which leads to severe straining during defecation that may lead to rectal prolapse (the rectum protrudes from the anus)
  • Intestinal obstruction in newborns (meconium ileus): The thick mucous secretion of the pancreas (meconium) blocks the intestine. It is a dangerous condition that needs urgent surgery. The newborn shows vomiting, colics, constipation, distention, and dehydration.

Without early and proper management, the disease progresses and causes complications, as follows:

  • Nutritional deficiencies: The digestive enzyme and juice can’t reach the intestine through the blocked pancreatic and bile ducts; thus, your body won’t absorb the essential nutrients, such as proteins and fat-soluble vitamins. Due to these nutritional deficiencies, the diseased children show growth retardation and weight loss (despite good appetite).
  • Pancreatitis: The pancreatic enzymes that can’t reach the intestine will regurge and accumulate in the pancreas, which leads to its inflammation. This inflammation may cause diabetes mellitus due to the destruction of the insulin-secreting cells. About 50% of adults with cystic fibrosis have diabetes.
  • Liver damage: The bile that can’t reach the intestine through the blocked bile ducts will accumulate in the liver. It’s toxic to the liver cells and may cause jaundice, fatty liver, and gall stones. The liver condition may end in cirrhosis and failure.
  • Intestinal obstruction may occur in cystic fibrosis at all ages, and it’s an acute emergent condition that needs urgent surgery.

Written by Martin Davis