Diet and Nutrition

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?

Key Takeaways

  • At times, the small intestines may stop producing lactose because of an attack by stomach flu or those with chronic diseases like cystic fibrosis
  • Premature newborns have lactose intolerance, since they cannot produce it on their own
  • Lactose intolerance symptoms can change from mild to severe depending on the amount of lactose produced by your body

The inability of the body to digest lactose is called lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar that is found in milk and other dairy products. This condition is not similar to food allergies.

When lactose seeps into the large intestine, we can show disturbing symptoms like bloating, heartburn, and gas. Most people with lactose intolerance are not able to digest any products produced from milk. However, some people drink and eat small dairy products and other types of foods without any complications.

Facts About Lactose intolerance

  • Adults are most commonly affected by lactose intolerance. This condition mostly affects Native Americans, people from Asia, Africans and South America more than those of European descent.
  • A big problem associated with lactose-intolerant patients is to know how to avoid discomfort while eating; getting calcium for healthy bones is a problem too.
  • When the small intestine cannot produce enough lactase enzymes, lactose intolerance attacks the body. Lactase is needed by the body to split down and digest lactose
  • Commonly, lactose intolerance runs in the family tree and symptoms start showing during adolescence. A large number of people with this nature of lactose intolerance are able to eat some dairy products without complications.

At times, the small intestines may stop producing lactase because of an attack by stomach flu or those with chronic diseases like cystic fibrosis. Surgery to remove a part of small intestine may make the small intestine to stop producing lactase. In events like these, the complication can be temporary or even permanent.

Rarely will you find new babies lactose-intolerant. Those born with lactose intolerance will not be able to drink or eat anything containing lactose.

Premature newborns have are lactose intolerant, since they cannot produce it on their own. When the newborn starts producing their own lactase, the condition fades away.

Lactose intolerance symptoms can change from mild to severe depending on the amount of lactose produced by your body. Usually, symptoms commence from 30 minutes to 2 hours after drinking or eating milk products. Symptoms of lactose intolerance are:

  • Nausea and occasional vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Heartburn

Testing Lactose Intolerance

The milk challenge is one of the easiest way to establish whether you are lactose intolerant.

After staying away from dairy products for several days, drink a glass of milk. If any of the lactose intolerance symptoms listed above then occur, then you may have this complication.

Tests that can be conducted by your doctor to establish lactose intolerance are:

  • Intestinal biopsy
  • Genetic test
  • Stool acidity
  • Hydrogen breath test
  • Lactose intolerance blood test

A simple and rather accurate technique to establish lactose intolerance is the hydrogen breath test.

A physician will ask you to ingest a liquid containing a certain amount of lactose. Later, you are supposed to breathe into a device that determines the amount of hydrogen in it. If you are lactose intolerant, bacteria in the intestine digests the sugar and produces methane and hydrogen that’s detected by the device. 

Your physician may have to perform a blood test called a lactose tolerance test. Two hours after drinking a lactose solution, your physician will take a blood sample from your body and test for glucose, a type of sugar released when lactase splits to lactose. If your glucose levels were raised slightly or not at all, it indicates your body not digesting lactose normally.

To diagnose lactose intolerance, invasive intestinal biopsy can be done too, in which a long, thin surgical tool called an endoscope is used by a gastroenterologist to get a sample of small intestine lining.

Infants and children who cannot undergo tests, so stool acidity test is performed instead. Lactose intolerance is detected by checking the rise of acidity or PH in stool, brought about by bacteria fermentation of lactose in the colon.

When to Visit the Doctor

If you frequently get symptoms of lactose intolerance after consuming dairy products, then you need to book an appointment with your physician.