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Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis

What are the symptoms of cystic fibrosis?

Many children today are diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) before they have any symptoms. Every state offers cystic fibrosis screening as part of their newborn screening programs. If a newborn has a positive result for cystic fibrosis, additional tests are done. Before screening programs existed, most children with CF were diagnosed after one of the following:

  • Respiratory symptoms such as cough, wheezing, or breathing difficulty

  • A thick and sticky first bowel movement of a baby that can block the small intestine (meconium ileus)

  • Not gaining weight as is normal after birth (failure to thrive)

The following are the most common symptoms for CF. Symptoms also may depend on when your child is diagnosed:

  • Salty tasting skin

  • Chronic respiratory symptoms like wheezing, cough, and thick material coughed up from the lungs (sputum) that is sometimes bloody

  • Lung infections

  • Poor weight gain and growth

  • Constipation

  • Greasy and bulky stools

Other health problems

These are other symptoms and health problems that may occur in some children with CF:

  • Sinus infection (sinusitis)

  • Nasal polyps or an abnormal growth out of the mucus membranes of the nose

  • Clubbing of fingers and toes. This is a condition marked by the widening and rounding of the tips of the fingers and toes due to lack of enough oxygen in the bloodstream.

  • Collapsed lung (pneumothorax), caused by air or gas leaking into the area around the lungs

  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)

  • Right-sided heart failure caused by long-term high blood pressure in the lung arteries (cor pulmonale).

  • Belly pain

  • Gas in the intestines

  • Part of the rectum sticks out through the anus (rectal prolapse)

  • Liver disease

  • Diabetes

  • Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). This organ creates many hormones and enzymes the body needs to work properly.

  • Gallstones

  • Congenital bilateral absence of the vas deferens in males

CF symptoms vary for each child. Infants born with CF usually show symptoms within the first year. But some children may not show symptoms until later in life. The following symptoms may indicate CF, and infants having these signs may be tested for CF:

  • Diarrhea that doesn’t go away

  • Bad-smelling stools

  • Greasy and bulky stools

  • Frequent episodes of wheezing

  • Frequent episodes of pneumonia

  • Persistent cough

  • Skin tastes very salty

  • Poor weight gain and growth

  • Chronic sinus infection

The symptoms of CF sometimes look like other conditions or health problems. Always see your child’s healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Blaivas, Allen J., DO
  • Holloway, Beth Greenblatt, RN, M.Ed.