In many cases, the signs and symptoms of cystic fibrosis can be visible early on in the life of the affected individual. The first obvious symptom is the inability of a newborn baby to pass feces. This happens due to the clogging of the intestines by meconium. Meconium is the first stool of the newborn, which normally contains substances ingested during the baby’s stay inside the mother’s womb.
The meconium is commonly made of mucus, bile, epithelial cells, amniotic fluid, and water. It is sticky and viscous. With individuals suffering from cystic fibrosis, meconium may become so thick that it blocks the intestines completely. This occurs with around 10% of newborns with cystic fibrosis.
Other than this, there are certain tell-tale signs of cystic fibrosis that are shared by the majority of people suffering from the disease. The most common one is the salty skin. The levels of salt in the sweat of people with cystic fibrosis is higher than normal. Parents can often notice this when kissing their children.
The list of respiratory and gastrointestinal signs and symptoms is quite long. Coughing followed by the production of thick and sticky mucus, shortness of breath, bacterial and fungal lung infections, sinus infections, stuffy nose, development of nasal polyps, pulmonary hypertension, and even coughing up blood are some of the possible symptoms of cystic fibrosis that manifest in the respiratory system.
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The gastrointestinal signs and symptoms include poor weight gain and slow growth in children, constipation, greasy stools, malnutrition, and liver cirrhosis. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency or the inability to properly digest food, due to the clogging of the ducts inside the pancreas, is common.
Clubbing of fingers and toes is also often associated with cystic fibrosis.
As many as 97% of men affected by cystic fibrosis suffer from infertility, while women might have difficulties becoming pregnant, with malnutrition being the main reason. Although infertile, men with cystic fibrosis are not necessarily sterile. The infertility is usually caused by the lack of vas deferens, the connection between the testes and the penis. Some form of assisted insemination is usually a successful solution of this problem.