Cystic fibrosis complications and symptoms

Cystic fibrosis (CF) affects many different parts of the body and people with the condition can experience a wide range of complications and symptoms. The number and severity of these symptoms can vary dramatically, so two individuals with CF can have very different experiences of the challenges it brings.


There is a long list of physical symptoms associated with CF, but most people with the condition will only experience a handful of these at any time. There are a host of treatments available to tackle some of the life-limiting effects of these symptoms and reduce the impact of CF on the body.


People with CF are susceptible to a range of infections as well as reduced lung function, which can have a huge impact on health and wellbeing. Find out more about lung infection, transplant, cross-infection and antibiotic resistance on our lungs page.

Digestive system

Cystic fibrosis can cause various problems with the digestive system, requiring medications - sometimes including insulin - to be taken with every meal, as well as special dietary adjustments.

Find out more about the pancreas and digestion, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes, cystic fibrosis and meconium ileus (bowel obstruction), distal intestinal obstruction syndrome (DIOS) and gastro-oesophageal reflux on our digestive system page

Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes

Inflammation and scarring of the pancreas can prevent the effective production of insulin, resulting in CF-related diabetes (CFRD). CFRD is common in adults and adolescents with cystic fibrosis. Recent data from the UK CF Registry indicates that more than one-third of adults with CF are being treated for CFRD; for children the prevalence of CFRD almost 30%. Find out more on our CFRD page.


Cystic fibrosis can cause the blockage of small ducts in the liver, leading to liver disease. Find out more about how common liver disease and jaundice is in people with CF, how CF affects the liver, the symptoms of CF-related liver disease and how it is diagnosed on our liver page.


In people with cystic fibrosis, bones may become thinner and weaker at a younger age than in people who do not have the condition. Find out more about joint pain and arthritis, osteopenia, osteoporosis and low bone mineral density (BMD), as well as how low BMD is caused, measured, treated and prevented on our bones page.


Both men and women with CF may have problems conceiving a child ‘naturally’ for various reasons. Find out more about how CF affects the reproductive system and fertility of men and women, and the different fertility treatments available, on our fertility page.


As people with CF live longer, we expect to see new trends in health data, with many positive developments but also new health challenges such as cancer. Access to national and international registries and increasing global collaboration mean we can identify trends and emerging issues more quickly and ensure we respond in a timely and effective way. We spoke to Professor Daniel Peckham, Director of the Adult CF Centre in Leeds, to find out more about the topic of cancer and CF, and work that is underway to further our knowledge in this important area.

There is some research to suggest that there may be an increased risk of bowel (or colorectal) cancer in people with cystic fibrosis. Find out more about bowel cancer, the risks in people with CF and how it is screened for.

Additional symptoms

There are a number of other symptoms that someone with CF might experience, which can also often be treated through various medications and procedures.

Find out more about the additional symptoms of cystic fibrosis, including fertility, kidney and hearing complications, sinusitis, nasal polyps, nail clubbing and sweat, and the symptoms in babies and young children – and whether carriers get symptoms or not – on our additional symptoms page

Support with symptoms

If you need any advice about the symptoms of cystic fibrosis, speak to your CF team. The Cystic Fibrosis Trust is not able to provide medical advice, but if you have general questions or just want someone to talk to, please call our helpline on 0300 373 1000 or email the helpline team, where you can speak to a friendly expert.

Research we fund

We fund research to tackle some of the most pressing issues in CF today. Find out how your donations are making a difference.

What is CF?

Cystic fibrosis, or CF, affects the lungs, digestive system and other organs, and there are over 10,600 people living with it in the UK.

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