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Though there is no cure for cystic fibrosis, the disease can be treated, extending the lives of those affected by it. In fact, advances in medical treatments make it possible for individuals with cystic fibrosis to live into adulthood. This is no small feat, as individuals with cystic fibrosis commonly died as infants in the early part of the 20th century.
Treatments for cystic fibrosis are intended to help prevent and control lung infections. Treatments are also used to loosen thick mucus and remove it from the lungs, prevent intestinal blockages, and help the patient absorb an adequate level of nutrition. To this end, antibiotics are often prescribed, as well as exercise, physical therapy, and other medications.
Often, individuals living with cystic fibrosis contract lung infections. In some cases, the infections are severe enough to require hospitalization. Antibiotics are used as the first line of defense for fighting these lung infections. There are several types of antibiotics used to treat cystic fibrosis patients. The type used in each case depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection, the severity of the patient’s condition, and the patient’s history with antibiotics.
Chest physical therapy (CPT) is also used to treat cystic fibrosis. This treatment involves pounding on the chest and back of the patient repeatedly in an effort to dislodge mucus from the lungs, making it easy for the patient to cough it up. This procedure is typically performed a few times each day. CPT can be difficult and uncomfortable for some cystic fibrosis patients. To make it easier, several devices have been developed to help with the technique.
Breathing techniques may also be used to dislodge mucus from the lungs. One technique, called the forced expiration technique (FET), involves forced breaths followed by relaxed breathing. Active cycle breathing (ACB), another commonly used technique, combines FET with deep breathing, helping to loosen mucus and clear the airways.
Aerobic exercise is also helpful in treating cystic fibrosis. In fact, those who exercise on a regular basis may require less CPT. However, cutting back on CPT without consulting with a doctor can have serious health consequences.
As part of treatment, individuals with cystic fibrosis must follow a high-calorie diet. This is typically supplemented with vitamins and medications that help the body absorb nutrients. In fact, some cystic fibrosis patients consume more than 20 vitamins and medications per day. Additionally, a variety of medications are taken to prevent infections, ease breathing, thin mucus, and reduce inflammation. If a patient’s oxygen level is too low, he or she may be given oxygen as well.
As those affected by cystic fibrosis grow older, infections typically increase in severity and become more difficult to treat. Damage to the lungs becomes worse. Sadly, damage-causing lung infections are the primary cause of death from cystic fibrosis.
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