What is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance occurs when an individual is not able to properly digest lactose in milk. Subsequently, they experience symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea after ingesting dairy products. It is typically caused when your body does not make enough of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose so the body can absorb it. While this condition is uncomfortable, it is usually harmless.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance may vary and usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating lactose. They may include:
- Abdominal cramping and pain.
- Excess gas.
Both adults and children can experience lactose intolerance. This condition may be caused by a number of factors, including if the small intestine stops producing lactase following an injury, infection, or disease, hereditary factors or if a baby is born prematurely and cannot make enough lactase.
How is Lactose Intolerance Diagnosed?
If you are experiencing the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance, your doctor will speak with you regarding your family history and your diet. To confirm a diagnosis, one or more tests may need to be done, including:
Lactose Tolerance Test
During this test, you will drink a liquid with high levels of lactose. Two hours later, you will have some blood tests, which will measure the glucose levels in your blood. If your glucose levels do not go up, it means that your body is not correctly digesting or absorbing the lactose drink.
Hydrogen Breath Test
For this test, you will be asked to drink a liquid with high levels of lactose. Your doctor will then measure the hydrogen levels in your breath. Breathing out too much hydrogen means that you are not properly digesting or absorbing lactose.
Treatment Options for Lactose Intolerance
While there is currently no treatment to help your body produce more lactase, there are diet changes that can be made to manage symptoms. This includes lowering the amount of lactose ingested on a daily basis and may include limiting dairy products, eating lactose-reduced milk or ice cream, adding a lactase enzyme to your milk to help you digest the lactose or including only small servings of dairy products to your meals. However, by reducing dairy products in your diet, you will want to take care to eat other foods high in calcium such as leafy green veggies, oranges, milk substitutes or calcium-fortified products. Working with a dietitian may help you make these changes more easily.
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