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Renal complications in Cystic Fibrosis

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In this document

Specific diseases 
Electrolyte disorders 


The precise effect(s) of dysfunctional CFTR in renal physiology is unknown, although CFTR is expressed in all nephron segments. There is no significant pathology and the renal consequences of cystic fibrosis are thought to be secondary to:

Events such as frequent drug exposure (e.g. nephrotoxic antibiotic use, NSAIDs, etc); immune complex damage; cystic fibrosis related diabetes; liver disease; malabsorption; and drugs post organ-transplant may all add to the overall injurious effect of cystic fibrosis on the kidney.

It appears that there is no particular renal pathology associated with cystic fibrosis - a study in 2009 described 13 adult cystic fibrosis patients (out of a total of 521) who had a range of abnormalities including diabetic nephropathy, amyloid and primary renal disease1.

Specific diseases


Cystic Fibrosis patients have reported rates of nephrolithiasis of 3-6% compared with 1-2% in age matched controls. Calcinosis can also occur with vitamin D excess. Renal stones can be caused by:

A child with proven renal stones should have their management discussed with the regional renal service for their location.

Antibiotic induced renal impairment

The frequent use of systemic aminoglycosides is a significant risk factor for proximal tubule damage. Associated risk factors for nephrotoxicity include CFRD, dehydration during intravenous antibiotic use e.g. from diarrhoea and vomiting, pre-existing renal impairment.

Monitoring renal function

Monitoring renal function is part of the Annual Review testing.

Electrolyte disorders

Metabolic alkalosis

Cystic Fibrosis can present as acute or chronic metabolic alkalosis. High loss of NaCl (from sweat, gut, bronchial mucosa, saliva and tears), along with low chloride intake leads to chloride depletion. This causes excessive bicarbonate resorption which leads to alkalosis.

Low urinary sodium

Urinary sodium concentration can be depleted due to everyday losses in Cystic Fibrosis. In younger children this can manifest itself as poor weight gain. If a patient is not growing adequately urinary sodium concentration should be checked. Normal value is >20mmol/L. A low result will need nutritional review.

Pseudo-Bartter's syndrome

(leads to hypochloraemic, hypokalaemic metabolic alkalosis)

In younger children Pseudo-Bartter's syndrome is often preceded by anorexia, vomiting, fever and weight loss. In older children it can be induced by extreme exercise with sweating. Severe respiratory disease, poor nutritional status and high enzyme intake are also associated with chronic metabolic alkalosis.




Yahiaoui Y. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2009;4:921

Document last reviewed: April 2017

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