Lactose intolerance: Symptoms, Treatment

Overview

Lactose intolerance refers to a condition when you are not able to fully digest the sugar in milk (lactose). After you have foods or milk containing lactose, digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea and gas will occur. These symptoms result from lactose malabsorption, in which your small intestine cannot break down all the lactose you eat or drink. But not everyone with lactose malabsorption will have digestive symptoms after consuming lactose. Only those who experience symptoms are lactose intolerant.

Moreover, the severity of the condition varies from person to person. Different people can consume different amounts of lactose before having symptoms. In most cases, people with lactose intolerance can still consume some amount of lactose without having symptoms.

It is estimated that about 68 percent of people over the world have this condition. And it affects about 36 percent of Americans.

Symptoms

If you have lactose intolerance, you are likely to experience symptoms within a few hours after you have foods containing lactose. Signs or symptoms may include:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Pain in your abdomen
  • Stomach “growling” or rumbling sounds
  • Vomiting

How serious these symptoms are depends on the amount of lactose you have.

Causes

Lactose malabsorption gives rise to lactose intolerance. When you have lactose malabsorption, your body is not able to produce enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose. Therefore, all the lactose you eat or drink can’t be digested.

Then the undigested will pass into your colon where they will be broken down by bacteria, creating fluid and gas. It is this fluid and gas that leads to lactose intolerance symptoms in some people.

Besides, some people may have intolerance due to the conditions associated with genes. They involve:

  • Lactase nonpersistence (also called primary lactase deficiency)

With lactase nonpersistence, your lactase levels will get lower with age.

  • Congenital lactase deficiency

With congenital lactase deficiency, your small intestine makes little or no lactase at your birth.

In addition to genetic factors, premature birth and infections, diseases or other conditions that injure your small intestines, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease may also play a role in causing lactose intolerance.

Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects lactose intolerance by asking about your symptoms and observing your response to reducing lactose in diet, he or she may order one or more of the following tests:

  • Lactose tolerance test
  • Hydrogen breath test
  • Stool acidity test (reserved for infants and children who can’t undergo other tests)

Treatment

If you want to avoid the discomfort caused by lactose intolerance, you can try:

  • Avoiding large servings of milk and other dairy products
  • Including small servings of dairy products in your regular meals
  • Eating and drinking lactose-reduced ice cream and milk
  • Drinking regular milk after you add a liquid or powder to it to break down the lactose

When you reduce the dairy products moderately based on your own condition, you can get calcium from other foods, such as:

  • Broccoli
  • Calcium-fortified products, such as bread and juices
  • Canned salmon
  • Milk substitutes, such as soy milk and rice milk
  • Oranges
  • Pinto beans
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach

You can also minimize symptoms of lactose intolerance by:

  • Choosing smaller servings of dairy
  • Saving milk for mealtimes
  • Experimenting with an assortment of dairy products
  • Buying lactose-reduced or lactose-free products
  • Using lactase enzyme tablets or drops

If these methods don’t improve your condition, you can try to use probiotics which is generally considered safe as well.


Keyword: lactose intolerance.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.