Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease in which a mutation causes bodily secretions, such as mucus, digestive juices and sweat, to have a thick, sticky consistency rather than a thinner, more slippery quality, explains Mayo Clinic. In healthy individuals, these secretions serve as a lubricant for the lungs and digestive system. In patients with cystic fibrosis, these secretions instead clog up important passageways in the lungs and pancreas.
Individuals with cystic fibrosis often experience breathing difficulties due to the thick, sticky mucus blocking their airways, notes the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. They are prone to lung infections, as bacteria can grow easily in areas of mucus buildup. These infections cause damage to the lung tissue over time, and the leading cause of death among cystic fibrosis patients is respiratory failure. Doctors sometimes prescribe pulmonary rehabilitation therapy in attempt to improve breathing quality.
Cystic fibrosis patients also have sweat that contains an unusually high salt content, states the NHLBI. This can cause patients to develop mineral imbalances when they sweat. Additionally, a buildup of mucus in the digestive system makes it more difficult for enzymes that help digest food to travel to the small intestine. As a result, cystic fibrosis patients are at an increased risk of vitamin deficiencies, malnutrition, constipation, gas and abdominal swelling.