Cystic Fibrosis - Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms

The hallmark signs and symptoms of cystic fibrosis are salty tasting skin, poor growth and poor weight gain despite a normal food intake, accumulation of thick, sticky mucus, frequent chest infections, and coughing or shortness of breath. Males can be infertile due to congenital absence of the vas deferens. Symptoms often appear in infancy and childhood, such as bowel obstruction due to meconium ileus in newborn babies. As the children grow, they must exercise to release mucus in the alveoli. Ciliated epithelial cells in the patient have a mutated protein that leads to abnormally viscous mucus production. The poor growth in children typically presents as an inability to gain weight or height at the same rate as their peers and is occasionally not diagnosed until investigation is initiated for poor growth. The causes of growth failure are multifactorial and include chronic lung infection, poor absorption of nutrients through the gastrointestinal tract, and increased metabolic demand due to chronic illness.

In rare cases, cystic fibrosis can manifest itself as a coagulation disorder. A double recessive allele is needed for cystic fibrosis to be apparent. Young children are especially sensitive to vitamin K malabsorptive disorders because only a very small amount of vitamin K crosses the placenta, leaving the child with very low reserves. Because factors II, VII, IX, and X (clotting factors) are vitamin K–dependent, low levels of vitamin K can result in coagulation problems. Consequently, when a child presents with unexplained bruising, a coagulation evaluation may be warranted to determine whether there is an underlying disease.

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