Welcome to part three in our four part series on cystic fibrosis, which is being published to coincide with Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month. In this article we’ll be sharing some information about the common signs and symptoms of cystic fibrosis.

Signs and Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis (CF)

The signs and symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis (CF) can vary greatly depending on the severity of the disease. Many CF sufferers find that their symptoms change over time, with their condition improving or worsening as they age.

Respiratory signs and symptoms

Cystic fibrosis causes the production of mucus that is thick and sticky. This mucus can clog up the small ducts and tubes in the lungs, leading to several symptoms including:

  • Breathlessness
  • Persistent coughing, often with phlegm
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Frequent lung infections including bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Inflamed nasal passages and a runny nose
  • Difficulty exercising

Digestive signs and symptoms

The mucus produced by cystic fibrosis can block tubes within the digestive tract. This can prevent enzymes traveling from the pancreases to the small intestine, which interferes with how the body digests food. This can cause the following signs and symptoms:

  • Poor weight gain
  • Slow growth
  • Intestinal blockages (more common in newborns)
  • Constipation
  • Foul-smelling greasy stools
  • Rectal prolapse (caused by straining on the toilet)
  • Inflamed pancreas (pancreatitis)


Read More:
10 Facts About Cystic Fibrosis You Should Know
What are the Common Causes of Cystic Fibrosis?


Other signs and symptoms

People with cystic fibrosis often very salty skin. In many cases, this is the first sign that a parent notices if they have a baby with the condition. Male infertility is also a common symptom of cystic fibrosis.

Complications Associated With Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a very dangerous condition because it can trigger several serious medical complications and illnesses. They include:

Chronic respiratory system infections

The thick mucus created by cystic fibrosis clogs up the lungs and sinuses. This provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi, leading to infections. Respiratory infections like pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus infections are common in cystic fibrosis sufferers.

Damaged airways (bronchiectasis)

Cystic fibrosis can cause damage to the airways, which makes it harder to breathe and clear mucus from the airways.

Nasal polyps

People with cystic fibrosis often have inflamed noses because of all of the coughing and sneezing. This can cause the development of Nasal polyps, which can make it even harder to breathe.

Coughing up blood

The presence of mucus in the lungs and persistent coughing can eventually cause the airways to become thinner. In some cases, this can result in coughing up blood.

Respiratory failure

Eventually the lungs become so damaged by cystic fibrosis that they can no longer function adequately. This is a life-threatening complication associated with cystic fibrosis.


Pneumothorax occurs when the space that separates the lungs from the chest wall becomes filled with air. It causes breathlessness and chest pain. It is common in older people with cystic fibrosis.

Acute exacerbations

An acute exacerbation is a sudden worsening of cystic fibrosis symptoms including shortness of breath and coughing. When this occurs, hospitalisation may be required.

Nutritional deficiencies

Thick mucus within the digestive system can block enzymes as they move from the pancreases to the intestines. This can make it harder for the body to absorb fats, proteins, and certain vitamins.  

Distal intestinal obstruction syndrome (DIOS)

DIOS is a serious obstruction that forms between the small intestine and large intestine in the distal part of the intestines.


Cystic fibrosis can reduce the ability of the pancreas to function and prevent it from releasing a sufficient amount of insulin. This can eventually lead to diabetes.

Intestinal obstruction

The buildup of mucus in the digestive system can also cause internal blockages. Infants are particularly at risk of developing intestinal blockages and a condition called intussusception.

Blocked bile duct

The additional mucus in the digestive system can cause the bile duct between the liver and gallbladder to become blocked. This can sometimes cause liver problems and gallstones.


Most men with cystic fibrosis become infertile as the tube that connects the prostate gland to the testes is blocked or damaged. Women with cystic fibrosis tend to be less fertile than women without the condition.


The nutritional deficiencies sometimes cause by cystic fibrosis can eventually lead to osteoporosis.

Thanks for reading What are the Common Signs & Symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis?  In the final article in the series, I’ll explain how researchers are using stem cells may be able to develop treatments for cystic fibrosis.