Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a heritable disease caused by mutations in the CFTR gene. This gene encodes for a channel protein that acts at the cell membranes to allow the traffic of salts in and out of cells.

Mutations in the CFTR gene cause the protein to be made incorrectly (or not at all), which means that salt is not trafficked properly. This results in the buildup of thick, sticky mucus in different tissues and organs. In the lungs, this mucus makes breathing more difficult, and patients more susceptible to respiratory infections.

CF can be difficult to diagnose, especially for patients with a rare mutation. One of the tests used to diagnose CF is a computerized tomography (CT) scan.

What is a CT scan?

A CT scan uses a series of X-rays from multiple angles to build a three-dimensional image of bones, blood vessels, and soft tissues within the body. The test involves more radiation than a standard X-ray.

The scan takes approximately 30 minutes and can be performed at hospitals or clinics. Some CT scans require patients to receive a contrast agent beforehand, which could be taken by mouth, enema, or injection, depending on the scan.

How are CT scans used to diagnose CF?

CF causes the buildup of mucus in the lungs, airways, and nasal passages, which can be visualized on CT scans.

Chest CT scans can reveal both mucus and bronchiectasis (a thickening of the walls of the small compartments of the lungs called the bronchi) that may indicate infection, inflammation, and potential lung damage.

Normally, sinuses are filled with air and appear black in CT scans. In patients with CF, the sinuses can become filled completely with mucus and appear white or grey in a sinus CT scan.

Following a CT scan, a patient meets with their physician and radiologist to discuss their scans and potential next steps for diagnosis and treatment.

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Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Emily holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Iowa in 2018 and is currently a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She graduated with a Masters in Chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Bachelors in Biology and Chemistry from the University of Central Arkansas. Emily is passionate about science communication, and, in her free time, writes and illustrates children’s stories.
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Emily holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Iowa in 2018 and is currently a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She graduated with a Masters in Chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Bachelors in Biology and Chemistry from the University of Central Arkansas. Emily is passionate about science communication, and, in her free time, writes and illustrates children’s stories.