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Cystic fibrosis

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Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that affects the lungs, the digestive system and other organs in the body.

Cystic fibrosis affects the cells that produce mucus, sweat and digestive enzymes. Bodily secretions that are usually fluid and not viscous become more viscous. Instead of acting as a lubricant, the viscous secretions form layers, especially in the lung and pancreas.

Patients with cystic fibrosis have a much higher level of salt in their sweat than normal.




The age at which symptoms appear varies, depending on the intensity of the disease in each person. Currently screening for cystic fibrosis is conducted in the first few days of a baby’s life, allowing a diagnosis to be made within a month of birth, much earlier than symptoms are likely to develop. Normally, symptoms appear within the first few months or years of life, although in some patients they may appear during adolescence or in adulthood. There has been an improvement in the quality of life of patients with cystic fibrosis compared to previous decades. Although cystic fibrosis requires daily treatment measures to control it, patients can still go to school and work.





The most common symptoms in small children are fatty deposits, delay in gaining weight, and repeated bronchitis and respiratory infections. Older children and adults may suffer from sinusitis, diabetes, pancreatitis or fertility problems.



Who is affected by the condition?


It affects children and adults more or less severely depending on whether the illness has a mild or severe form of manifestation.





All new-borns are screened using a blood test to detect immunoreactive trypsinogen.

The sweat test (amount of salt in the sweat) is an important diagnostic test. It is done by stimulating the skin to increase sweat and measuring the amount of chloride secreted. In cystic fibrosis there is an increased amount of chloride and sodium.

Diagnosis is confirmed using genetic testing to look for mutations of the CFTR gene (Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane conductance Regulator). This gene is involved in the passage of salt through the membranes of the body.



Typical treatment


It is very important that patients be attended in a specialised multidisciplinary Unit. 

There is currently no definitive cure, although there is a lot of research in this field and in the future it is probable that we will be able to change the natural course of this illness with new drugs that come onto the market.

Treatment is aimed at maintaining lung function, avoiding respiratory infections and improving the absorption of foods and nutrition. Breathing exercises are essential. These breathing exercises maintain adequate ventilation of the lungs and in some cases are accompanied by inhalation of a solution of sodium chloride, other fluidifying substances or antibiotics.

The relevant preventive vaccinations should be administered (flu, pneumococcal, etc.). The Cystic Fibrosis Unit designs a treatment plan for each patient, which varies over time and according to the evolution of the condition.

From a digestive point of view, pancreatic function can be helped by taking pancreatic enzymes orally and promoting the absorption of foods.

In some cases, if the disease is very advanced, a lung transplant may be needed. Treatments are improving all the time and need to be administered less and less frequently.



Typical tests


Screening for immunoreactive trypsinogen in the blood, the sweat test, genetic analysis.

Complementary tests that may be useful include blood tests to look at vitamin levels, among other things, chest x-ray, chest CAT scan, functional respiratory tests (spirometry) and stool analysis.





Early detection is currently a reality and allows early treatment as symptoms develop.


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