In a way, it is like a roll of the dice. Cystic fibrosis, or CF, is a genetic disease. You cannot get it any other way besides inheriting one CF gene from each of your parents. Babies who get two of these defective genes will always develop the disease.
A person who has one CF gene does not have cystic fibrosis, but is a carrier. The child of two CF carriers has a 1-in-4 chance of getting CF and a 1-in-2 chance of being a carrier. Many carriers don’t even suspect they have the gene, unless they know of a family history of CF.
Cystic fibrosis affects the glands that secrete sweat and mucus. It doesn’t strike everyone in exactly the same way. However, the most serious problems occur in the lungs and digestive system. The mucus in the lungs is normally thin and serves as a lubricant. CF makes the mucus thick and sticky. Instead of helping cleanse the lungs like it’s supposed to, it clogs the air passages, causing breathing difficulties.
In the digestive tract, this disease process can reduce organ function and lead to numerous complications, such as diabetes, liver disease, pancreatitis and others. Problems with the sweat glands tend to be somewhat less severe. When it affects sweating, CF can deplete the body of salt and cause mineral imbalances and other complications.
While there is no cure for CF, recent progress in research and treatment holds out great hope for the future. The average life span of a cystic fibrosis patient has nearly doubled thanks to advances in treatment, although the life span remains at only 30 years.