Cystic fibrosis is a disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tract, and other areas of the body. While it is life-threatening, over the last few decades the life expectancy for cystic fibrosis has increased dramatically.
Cystic Fibrosis Life Expectancy
In October 2021 at the North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference, it was announced that for the first time in history that the median life expectancy of babies born with cystic fibrosis is 50 years. As recently as the 1950’s, the life expectancy with cystic fibrosis was only 5 years, so impressive strides have been made in treatments for the disease over the past several decades.
In the late 1950’s and 1960’s, pancreatic enzymes, airway clearance techniques, and specialized antibiotics were introduced as treatments that increased CF life expectancy. Between the 1970’s and 1990’s, lung transplants became a more utilized treatment for CF. By the early 2000’s, life expectancy with cystic fibrosis jumped to 44 years.
Can You Live a Long Life with Cystic Fibrosis?
Recently, more and more people have been diagnosed with CF after age 50. The oldest person in the United States diagnosed with CF for the first time was 82. Those who are not diagnosed with CF until later in life generally suffer from colds, sinus infections, pneumonia, stomach pains, and acid reflux. They may also have trouble gaining or keeping on weight.
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It is likely they were previously diagnosed with tuberculosis or chronic bronchitis. Doctors believe those diagnosed with CF later in life are suffering from “delayed CF” rather than a less severe form of the disease, as their lungs appear the same as those diagnosed in childhood.
Patients with cystic fibrosis do tend to report struggling with anxiety and depression in addition to the symptoms of the disease, which is not uncommon for those struggling with lifelong diseases. Despite this, many patients with cystic fibrosis do live normal, happy lives including working full time, having relationships and marriages, and even having children of their own.
Remember, the life expectancy of 50 years is a median, or average, age. It is possible to live even longer, as some of these cases of adults being diagnosed as senior citizens demonstrate. Cystic fibrosis is still being studied, and new treatments continue to become available to increase life expectancy and improve the quality of life for those living with CF.