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Girl with cystic fibrosis using a nebuliser

Myths about cystic fibrosis

March 23, 2016

Many people still believe in common myths about cystic fibrosis (CF), but here we take a closer look at CF and reveal the truth!

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited genetic condition, which affects the body’s respiratory, digestive, and reproductive systems. In Australia, more than 1 in 25 people carry the cystic fibrosis gene, but being a carrier doesn’t mean that you will also have CF itself (Better Health Channel).

Let’s take a closer look at a few facts about CF and bust those myths.

Myth #1: Having cystic fibrosis means you just have a bad cough

For someone with CF, it is a lot more than it may seem.

Whilst someone can have a persistent cough, their mucus glands actually secrete very thick and sticky mucus. In the case of the lungs, this can clog the air passages and trap bacteria causing lung damage and recurrent infections.

Other organs in the body can also be affected.  In the case of the pancreas, the release of enzymes needed to digest food is prevented, which means people with CF must consume a very high calorie diet – 20 to 50% more each day than the recommended intake.

People with CF can also have low salt levels in the body which causes problems such as fatigue, cramps, and dehydration. This is caused by salt travelling to the skin, but not being reabsorbed. Mothers of a child with CF therefore often notice a distinct saltiness when they kiss their child.

Some people with CF also have liver damage, diabetes, and men are often infertile.

Myth #2: All carriers will develop cystic fibrosis or pass it onto their children

Just because someone is a carrier of the CF gene, it doesn’t mean they actually have CF, or that they will pass it onto their children. For a child to inherit CF, both parents must be carriers. If both parents are carriers, there is a:

  • 25% chance the child will have CF
  • 50% chance the child will not have CF but will be a carrier (meaning they could potentially pass the gene to their own children)
  • 25% chance the child will not have CF and will not be a carrier (Better Health Channel).

Of those who carry the CF gene, approximately 80% don’t know they are carriers. Because most people don’t know, babies are often born without the parents having considered the possibility.

If you have any concerns about the CF gene, modern testing can identify this. Every baby born in Australia is screened for CF at birth by both a blood and sweat test before they are two months old (Better Health Channel).

Myth #3: Children with cystic fibrosis won’t live to be adults

As with many illnesses and disabilities, advances in medical science has meant that CF was far more restrictive 5 to 6 decades ago than it is today.

It is however a serious illness and there is currently no cure, but treatments are available to help slow its progression. Today the average life expectancy for Australians with CF is 37 years. However, depending on how severe CF is for someone, as well as how it’s managed, many people can live into their 30s, and some into their 40s and 50s.

Myth #4: Only Caucasian people get cystic fibrosis

It is true that more people of northern European ancestry are carriers of the CF gene than other races. However, whilst it is far less common in those of Afro-Caribbean and Asian descent, that doesn’t mean that only Caucasian people can inherit CF.

The truth is, all races are able to be carriers of the CF gene, or can inherit the disability themselves (Mayo Clinic).

Myth #5: Cystic fibrosis is contagious

This is a common misconception that couldn’t be further than the truth. CF is solely genetic, but because a common symptom is prolonged coughing, it has lead to a belief that it can be passed on like the common cold or chicken pox.

It is impossible to ‘catch’ CF and you cannot develop the condition simply by touching or being around someone who does have it.