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Cystic Fibrosis


Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a lifelong condition that affects your lungs, digestive system, and other organs. Your mucus, tears, sweat, and saliva become so thick and sticky that they clog your lungs and digestive system. CF usually causes problems with breathing and with breaking down and absorbing food. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder. If your parents or close relatives have CF, there is a higher risk that you may have it.



You may need any of the following:

  • Antibiotics help fight or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Mucus thinning medicine is breathed in to help thin lung mucus so you can cough it up more easily.
  • Bronchodilators help open the air passages in your lungs, and help you breathe more easily.
  • Pancreatic enzymes help your digestive system break down food and absorb nutrients properly.
  • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain. This medicine can be bought with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow the directions on it before using this medicine.
  • Steroid medicine helps decrease inflammation.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him of her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your healthcare provider or CF specialist in 2 to 4 weeks:

You will need to return regularly to have your condition monitored. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.


You may need extra oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils.

Airway clearance techniques:

Your healthcare provider may teach you exercises to help remove mucus so you can breathe more easily. These exercises may be used along with machines or special devices to help decrease your symptoms and risk for infection.


Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. Physical activities can help loosen secretions in your airways and lungs, and help you breathe more easily.


Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. You may need to eat foods that have extra calories, fat, vitamins, or calcium. Ask your healthcare provider if you need to be on a special diet.

Do not smoke:

If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Smoke can make your coughing or breathing worse. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you need help quitting.

Tips to help you breathe more easily:

  • Rest or sleep with your head elevated to keep your airway open. Use pillows or foam wedges to elevate your head.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe and to cough up mucus.

Prevent the spread of germs:

  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a child's diapers, or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough. Cough into a tissue or your shirtsleeve so you do not spread germs from your hands.

Get the flu vaccine each year:

This will help prevent infection from the flu virus. Avoid people who have a cold or the flu.

Genetic counseling:

Genetic counseling may help you learn why you have CF. If you plan to have a baby, genetic testing may show your child's risk for CF.

Contact your healthcare provider or CF specialist if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have chills or feel weak or achy.
  • You have trouble sleeping.
  • You urinate less, have a dry mouth or cracked lips, or feel dizzy.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • You cough up blood.
  • You have pain in your chest or trouble breathing.
  • Your lips or fingernails turn blue or white.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2021 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Cystic Fibrosis (Aftercare Instructions)

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.