Treatment or cure? An approach to cystic fibrosis
Posted on 7 July 2015
What do you do when you’re faced with a disease or condition that can’t be cured? Dr Ignatius Immink of Mediclinic George, who recently worked with a cystic fibrosis patient, recommends changing the focus from searching – breathlessly – for a cure, and looking at treatment instead.
You get sick, you get treated, you get better. It’s a pretty simple formula – and one that, thanks to modern medicine, we’re able to follow. Most of the time. Some of the time, there isn’t a cure. And that’s when the focus turns from treatment to management.
Dr Ignatius Immink is a physician at Mediclinic George who recently worked with a patient who had cystic fibrosis. CF is a relatively rare genetic condition that affects your body’s ability to produce sweat, mucus and digestive juices. Usually, these fluids are thin and slippery; but in a person who has cystic fibrosis, they’re thick and sticky. It affects the lungs and pancreas, causing symptoms that Dr Immink describes as ‘shortness of breath, and – among babies, where we most often see the diagnosis – a failure to thrive and grow.’
CF can be caused by any one of a thousand different genetic mutations, and it cannot be cured.
But, Dr Immink points out, it can be treated and it can be managed.
‘It’s all about prevention,’ he says. Because CF affects the patient’s ability to breathe, it’s vitally important that the lungs are kept clear of any infection. ‘So you’re looking at regular immunisation against infections,’ he says, ‘and then, if an infection does occur, treating that infection as early as possible to prevent it progressing to something more serious, like pneumonia. The most important thing is preventing that infection.’
For Dr Immink, it’s not so much about curing the cystic fibrosis; that can’t be done. ‘It’s more about preventing the infections that make the condition so difficult to live with,’ he says.
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