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Home > Wellness > Health Library > How Cystic Fibrosis Affects Digestion and the Pancreas
Cystic fibrosis often affects the pancreas and
digestive system because the
mucus in these areas becomes thick and sticky. If this
occurs, the mucus blocks normal digestive function as well as harbors
The digestive system is responsible for breaking down food, absorbing
nutrients from the food, and ridding the body of waste products. The
pancreas is an organ that is located in the upper
abdomen, behind the stomach and close to the spine. It produces digestive
enzymes, which travel to the intestines and break down (digest) food so that
nutrients can be absorbed by the body.
In cystic fibrosis, mucus clogs the pancreas, and digestive enzymes
are not able to get to the intestine. So food is not properly digested,
particularly fats and proteins. A related symptom is large, greasy, smelly stools.
Lack of nutrition prevents normal growth and development in babies
and children. Unhealthy weight loss and difficulty gaining or maintaining
weight are common problems for many people of all ages who have cystic
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is common in people who have cystic fibrosis.
In addition to enzymes, the pancreas also produces insulin, a
hormone that helps control blood sugar. Over time, the abnormal buildup of
enzymes starts to break down pancreatic tissue. This slows and may eventually
stop insulin production, resulting in
Cystic fibrosis may also affect the bowel and liver in the
June 15, 2011
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & Susanna McColley, MD - Pediatric Pulmonology
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