Pancreatic Disorders Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis, or CF, is a genetic disease that affects the exocrine glands, including the pancreas. Exocrine glands are responsible for controlling perspiration, and the production of important digestive enzymes and the mucus lubricating the respiratory tract. Cystic fibrosis causes exocrine glands to malfunction, and thick mucus to develop in the lungs and pancreas, affecting lung capacity and digestion.

CF can strike anyone, from any ethnic group, but people of Northern European descent are at higher risk than other groups. The abnormal gene that causes cystic fibrosis is quite common: as many as one in twenty people carry the recessive gene. Like many other genetic disorders, only when both parents carry the gene can cystic fibrosis develop in a child. Parents who both have the gene have a 25 percent chance that their child will have CF.

Shortness of Breath and Other Cystic Fibrosis Symptoms

Cystic fibrosis symptoms vary among affected individuals. Some symptoms are more common than others. No one individual experiences all symptoms. Shortness of breath and other lung-related complications are extremely common, and most people living with CF have some degree of digestive problems. Cystic fibrosis symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough
  • Hyperhydrosis (excessive sweating)
  • Limited lung capacity
  • “Salty” skin
  • Wheezing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pneumonia
  • Excessive appetite but little weight gain
  • Large, foul-smelling stools
  • Diarrhea.


Cystic fibrosis affects the exocrine glands, including the body’s sweat glands. Hyperhydrosis is the medical term for excessive sweating. One of the most common tests for CF is a “sweat test,” that measures the amount of salt in perspiration.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Most people with CF have a condition known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. The pancreas becomes clogged with thick mucus, and cannot deliver enough pancreatic enzymes to the digestive system. This hinders the ability to adequately digest food, and may cause weight loss, excessive appetite, abdominal pain and abnormal bowel movements.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency can be treated. Supplements of vitamins and pancreatic enzymes are important for the promotion of normal growth. Often, individuals with CF need to consume more calories than normal to ensure sufficient absorption of fats and proteins.

Lung Capacity and Respiratory Treatment Options

Limited lung capacity and lung disease are high risk complications of cystic fibrosis: lung disease is the most common cause of death amongst people with CF. Chest physical therapy is a standard way to clear the lungs of mucus buildup in the morning. A family member “drums” on the person’s back with cupped hands. The percussion loosens lung mucus. Lung infections, which worsen CF symptoms by further reducing lung capacity, are treated with antibiotics.


Columbia University Department of Surgery. (nd). What is hyperhydrosis? Retrieved March 10, 2003, from

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. (nd). About cystic fibrosis. Retrieved March 6, 2003, from

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. (1995). Facts about cystic fibrosis. Retrieved March 10, 2003, from