Cystic fibrosis is an inherited genetic condition. It’s not contagious. To have the disease, you must inherit the faulty cystic fibrosis gene from both parents.

The disease causes the mucus in your body to become thick and sticky and to build up in your organs. It can interfere with the function of your lungs, pancreas, reproductive system, and other organs, as well as your sweat glands.

Cystic fibrosis is a chronic, progressive, life-threatening disease. It’s caused by a mutation on chromosome seven. This mutation leads to abnormalities in or the absence of a certain protein. It’s known as the cystic fibrosis transmembrane regulator.

Cystic fibrosis is not contagious. You have to be born with it. And you’re only at risk of cystic fibrosis if both of your parents carry the defective gene.

It’s possible to have the carrier gene for cystic fibrosis, but not the condition itself. More than 10 million people carry the defective gene in the United States, but many don’t know they’re carriers.

According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, if two people who are carriers of the gene have a child, the outlook is:

  • 25 percent chance the child will have cystic fibrosis
  • 50 percent chance the child will be a carrier of the gene
  • 25 percent chance the child will not have cystic fibrosis or the carrier gene

Cystic fibrosis is found in men and women of all races and ethnicities. It’s most common among white people and least common in Black people and Asian Americans. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the rate of cystic fibrosis cases in children in the United States is:

  • 1 in 3,500 white children
  • 1 in 17,000 Black children
  • 1 in 31,000 children of Asian decent

Find out more about being a cystic fibrosis carrier »

Cystic fibrosis symptoms can vary from person to person. They also come and go. Symptoms can be related to the severity of your condition, as well as the age of your diagnosis.

Symptoms of cystic fibrosis include:

  • respiratory system problems, such as:
    • coughing
    • wheezing
    • being out of breath
    • inability to exercise
    • frequent lung infections
    • stuffy nose with inflamed nasal passages
    • digestive system problems, including:
      • greasy or foul-smelling stools
      • inability to gain weight or grow
      • intestinal blockage
      • constipation
      • infertility, especially in males
      • saltier-than-normal sweat
      • clubbing of your feet and toes
      • osteoporosis and diabetes in adults

Because symptoms vary, you may not identify cystic fibrosis as the cause. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor right away to determine if you should be tested for cystic fibrosis.

Learn more about a common cystic fibrosis complication »

Cystic fibrosis is most commonly diagnosed in newborns and infants. Cystic fibrosis screening in newborns is now required by all states in the United States. Early testing and diagnosis can improve your prognosis. Still, some people never received early cystic fibrosis testing. This may result in a diagnosis as a child, teen, or adult.

To diagnose cystic fibrosis, your doctor will perform a variety of tests, which may include:

  • screening for high levels of the immunoreactive trypsinogen chemical, which comes from the pancreas
  • sweat tests
  • blood tests that examine your DNA
  • X-rays of the chest or sinuses
  • lung function tests
  • sputum cultures to look for certain bacteria in your spit

Read more: Cystic fibrosis by the numbers »

Depending on the severity of your condition, cystic fibrosis flare-ups can occur. They commonly affect the lungs. Flare-ups are when your symptoms appear to worsen. Your symptoms may also become more severe as the disease progresses.

To help manage flare-ups and prevent your symptoms from worsening, you must follow a strict treatment plan for cystic fibrosis. Talk to your doctor to figure out the best treatment for you.

While the disease has no cure, some lifestyle changes can help keep your symptoms at bay and improve your quality of life. Effective ways to manage your cystic fibrosis symptoms can include:

  • clearing the airways
  • using certain inhalable medications
  • taking pancreatic supplements
  • going to physical therapy
  • eating a proper diet
  • exercising

Learn more: Treating cystic fibrosis »

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition, so it’s not contagious. It currently has no cure. It can cause a variety of symptoms, which will likely worsen with time.

However, research and treatments for cystic fibrosis have improved vastly in the last several decades. Today, people with cystic fibrosis can live to age 30 and beyond. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation states that more than half of the people with cystic fibrosis are 18 or older.

More studies on cystic fibrosis should help researchers find better and more effective treatments for this serious condition. In the meantime, work with your doctor on a treatment plan that can improve your daily life.