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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. This is because of an increase in newborn screening programs. Before screening programs existed, most children with CF were diagnosed after one of the following:

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

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

  • Failure to thrive (not gaining weight as is normal after birth)

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 sputum that is sometimes bloody

  • Lung infections

  • Poor weight gain and growth

  • Constipation

  • Greasy and bulky stools

Other medical problems

These are other medical problems that may occur in some children with CF:

  • Sinusitis or infection of the sinuses

  • 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.

  • Pneumothorax or collapsed lung. The presence of air or gas in the area around the lungs that causes the lung to collapse.

  • Hemoptysis, or coughing up blood

  • Cor pulmonale. Right-sided heart failure from long-term high blood pressure in the lung arteries.

  • Abdominal pain

  • Gas in the intestines

  • Rectal prolapse or a protruding of the rectum out of the anus

  • Liver disease

  • Diabetes

  • Pancreatitis. This is an inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that creates many hormones and enzymes the body needs to function properly.

  • Gallstones

  • Congenital bilateral absence of the vas deferens in males

As stated above, the symptoms of CF differ for each child. Infants born with CF usually show symptoms within the first year. Some children, though, 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

  • Foul-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 growth

  • Chronic sinus infection

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

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/13/2014
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.