The state of Iowa’s become one of only about ten states that now test newborn babies for cystic fibrosis. Beth Dowd at University Hospitals in Iowa City is coordinator for the cystic fibrosis program. Cystic fibrosis is the most common inherited condition, she says, with one out of every 29 white Americans a carrier of the gene. Now, she says, screening of newborns will allow treatment to begin right away. She says once, it took two to four years to diagnose the illness when symptoms showed up. They may have noticed the child didn’t grow well, or had lots of diarrhea because they can’t absorb fat. Then there are lots of unexplained respiratory illnesses. While some people know the genetic disease will cause people to let lots of colds and infections, Dowd says there are other physical problems caused by the same disorder. It affects growth because the body doesn’t properly absorb fat from the diet, so the earlier doctors know, they can give babies enzyme replacements to help them absorb those nutrients and grow normally. It also affects the lungs and airways, so a doctor will take frequent throat cultures to catch bacterial infection early, and treat it preventively. Dowd says the early detection and treatment can improve not only quality of life — it can mean longer life for a patient with cystic fibrosis. Right now she says you’ll see estimates that the life expectancy of C-F patients is somewhere in the mid 30s. She says there are many people who’ve lived longer than that, however. Kids born with C-F today can expect a life considerably longer than they once could, with new developments to help them maintain their lung function. Last year about 250 Iowans were treated for cystic fibrosis, which causes the body to produce abnormally thick mucous, causing chronic lung and liver failure.
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