Parents of children with cystic fibrosis have been reported to have a high prevalence of increased airway reactivity, but these studies were done in a select young, healthy, symptomless population. In the present study respiratory symptoms were examined in 315 unselected parents of children with cystic fibrosis and 162 parents of children with congenital heart disease (controls). The cardinal symptom of airway reactivity, wheezing, was somewhat more prevalent in cystic fibrosis parents than in controls, but for most subgroups this increased prevalence did not reach statistical significance. Among those who had never smoked, 38% of obligate heterozygotes for cystic fibrosis but only 25% of the controls reported wheezing (p less than 0.05). The cystic fibrosis parents who had never smoked but reported wheezing had lower FEV1 and FEF25-75, expressed as a percentage of the predicted value, than control parents; and an appreciable portion of the variance in pulmonary function was contributed by the interaction of heterozygosity for cystic fibrosis with wheezing. For cystic fibrosis parents, but not controls, the complaint of wheezing significantly contributed to the prediction of pulmonary function (FEV1 and FEF25-75). In addition, parents of children with cystic fibrosis reported having lung disease before the age of 16 more than twice as frequently as control parents. Other respiratory complaints, including dyspnoea, cough, bronchitis, and hay fever, were as common in controls as in cystic fibrosis heterozygotes. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that heterozygosity for cystic fibrosis is associated with increased airway reactivity and its symptoms, and that the cystic fibrosis heterozygotes who manifest airway reactivity and its symptoms may be at risk for poor pulmonary function.
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