BACKGROUND--Cystic fibrosis is usually diagnosed in childhood, but a number of patients are not diagnosed until adulthood. The aim of this study was to investigate whether patients diagnosed at an older age had a different genetic constitution, manifestations of disease, and prognosis from those diagnosed at an early age. METHODS--Clinical data and results of lung function tests and DNA analysis of 143 adult patients with cystic fibrosis were entered into a computerised database. Patients diagnosed before their 16th birthday (early diagnosis, ED) were compared with those diagnosed at 16 years of age or older (late diagnosis, LD). RESULTS--Mean age of diagnosis of the ED group was 4.6 years compared with 27.7 years for the LD group. Mean (SD) percentage predicted pulmonary function was better for the LD group than for the ED group: forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) 72.5 (31.1)% and 52.0 (24.8)%, and forced vital capacity (FVC) 89.8 (25.7)% and 71.9 (23.0)%, respectively. Colonisation with Pseudomonas aeruginosa was present in 70% of the ED group and 24% of the LD group. In the ED group 81% had pancreatic insufficiency compared with only 12% of the LD group. None of the LD group was homozygous for delta F508 compared with 58% of the ED group. In the LD group 72% were compound AF508 heterozygotes and 28% had two non-delta F508 mutations. CONCLUSIONS--Among this group of 143 adult patients with cystic fibrosis late diagnosis is caused mainly by delayed expression and mild progression of clinical symptoms. Late diagnosis is associated with milder pulmonary disease, less pancreatic insufficiency, and different cystic fibrosis mutations. Since mortality in cystic fibrosis depends on the progression of pulmonary disease, patients with a late diagnosis have a better prognosis than those diagnosed early.
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