Although most known for its effect on the lungs, cystic fibrosis is a far-reaching condition that affects most of the body’s systems.

Cystic fibrosis is a chronic condition that’s primarily associated with breathing difficulties, lung infections, and persistent wheezing. But people with cystic fibrosis can experience a wide range of complications and symptoms throughout their bodies.

The sticky mucus that causes classic cystic fibrosis systems can also lead to the blockage of important body ducts and tubes. As a result, enzymes, proteins, and other body substances don’t travel correctly. This can lead to complications such as impaired digestion, reduced liver function, diabetes, and infertility.

Cystic fibrosis causes the layer of thin mucus inside your airways to be stickier than it should be. As a result, it’s easier for bacteria to become trapped in the lungs. This leaves people with cystic fibrosis at a higher risk of infections.

Also, this stickier mucus can make it harder for the tiny filaments (called cilia) that move mucus, and the substances inside mucus, through the airways and lungs work correctly. This can cause mucus and bacteria to build up in the lungs and airways. It can lead to difficulty breathing and can cause the persistent wheezing cough that many people with cystic fibrosis experience.

Cystic fibrosis can affect the endocrine system, the pancreas, and the production of insulin.

As a result, people with cystic fibrosis have an increased risk of type 1 diabetes. About 20% of teenagers with cystic fibrosis have diabetes, while about 40–50% of adults with cystic fibrosis have diabetes. Diabetes caused by cystic fibrosis is called cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.

Learn more about cystic fibrosis and pancreatic insufficiency here.

Cystic fibrosis can affect the digestive system in a few different ways. This includes affecting your:

  • liver function: Cystic fibrosis can cause the tube that carries bile between your liver, gallbladder, and small intestine to become inflamed and blocked. This can result in liver difficulties, including fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.
  • gallbladder function: The same blockage in your bile ducts that can cause liver difficulties can also lead to gallstones.
  • intestinal function: Cystic fibrosis can lead to an intestinal blockage. Sometimes, a condition called intussusception, which causes one section of the intestine to collapse into another, can also occur as a result of cystic fibrosis.
  • digestive function: Cystic fibrosis can result in mucus blocking the tubes that carry digestive enzymes between your pancreas and intestines. This can make it difficult for your body to correctly process protein, fats, and fat-soluble vitamins.

Cystic fibrosis has multiple effects on the reproductive system. It often delays the start of puberty by about 18 months to 2 years in young males, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In adulthood, effects on the reproductive system can include:

Learn more about cystic fibrosis and how it’s passed down in families here.

Cystic fibrosis can also affect other areas of your body. This includes effects on:

  • bones: Cystic fibrosis can cause early thinning of the bones and low bone mineral density. This can increase the risk of fractures.
  • hydration: People with cystic fibrosis have an abnormal gene that affects how water and chloride move in and out of cells. It’s what causes thick mucus, and it also causes people with the condition to experience saltier sweat than people without cystic fibrosis. This can lead to faster dehydration.
  • sinuses: The buildup of mucus can lead to chronic sinus congestion. This can result in nasal polyps, sinus pain, headaches, and difficulty breathing through the nose.
  • fingernails: People with cystic fibrosis often develop a distinct rounded fingernail shape. This is known as nail clubbing.

Cystic fibrosis is a chronic condition that’s known for its effects on the lungs and respiratory system but that has effects throughout your body. Notably, this can include an increased risk of diabetes, as well as effects on liver function.

Additional effects on the digestive system, such as changes to gallbladder function and intestinal blockages, can also occur. People with cystic fibrosis also often experience effects on their reproductive systems, including delayed puberty and difficulty with fertility.

Additional health effects of cystic fibrosis include weakened bones, a high risk of hydration, blocked sinuses, and clubbed fingers. Learn more facts about cystic fibrosis here.