Cystic fibrosis is a lifelong condition that affects around one in 2400 babies, making it a rare occurrence. It is usually diagnosed by a routine blood test taken a few days after birth, but symptoms include frequent chest infections and poor growth.
The condition affects the way the lungs work, and also affects the body's ability to digest food. It is caused by a faulty gene that alters the way the body absorbs salt. This results in too much salt being processed, but not enough water.
This in turn causes a problem with the secretions that the body produces to lubricate the organs. Rather than an efficient fluid, the secretions become a thick, sticky mucus. This then clogs the airways in the lungs, and blocks the digestive system.
The condition leads to problems with breathing, and everyday colds and childhood chest infections can pose a serious risk to the child. Additionally, because cystic fibrosis affects the digestion of food, children with the condition are often small for their age.
There is no treatment for cystic fibrosis other than specialist physiotherapy to exercise the lungs; a modified diet to maximise food absorption; and regular antibiotics to minimise the risk of chest infections.
These treatments combined mean that the prognosis for children with cystic fibrosis is improving, and children with the condition are now surviving well adulthood. Additionally, life expectancy is continuing to increase.