Ongoing Research Funded by DHF

Can We Improve Lung Function in Cystic Fibrosis by Treating Constipation?

Principal Researcher:

Principal Investigator: Adam C. Stein, MD

Does constipation cause breathing problems? In some individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF), the answer is yes-maybe.  A genetic disorder typically affecting lung function, CF can also cause GI tract issues. Many patients with CF suffer from severe constipation that sometimes lands them in the hospital for intensive management of their condition. Bowel purges can bring relief. After undergoing a bowel preparation—much like one used before colonoscopies—to assist with bowel movement, some CF patients surprisingly reported improvements in their breathing.

As a part of the multi-specialty CF clinic at Northwestern Medicine, Adam C. Stein, MD, a faculty member in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, has seen the debilitating consequences of constipation in patients. He believes there may be a connection between pulmonary function and GI problems, such as constipation.

Supported by a grant from the Digestive Health Foundation, Dr. Stein and colleagues will characterize the effect of a single bowel purge on breathing or pulmonary function tests in patients with CF who also have pancreatic insufficiency. They plan to enroll 20 patients in this pilot study by identifying and recruiting potential participants (18 years or older) at the time of their clinic appointment at Lurie Children’s Hospital. Baseline breathing tests will be performed as per the usual routine at clinic visits. Participants will answer a short survey about bowel habits and, within two weeks of their follow up visit, will undergo a bowel prep. The next day at the subsequent clinic visit, breathing tests will be re-administered and participants will complete the same short survey.

If data from this novel pilot study reveals a causal relationship between easier breathing and bowel purges, it could offer a new avenue for improving pulmonary function in people with cystic fibrosis.

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