If you love dairy but your stomach seems to disagree, you may find yourself wondering if you are dealing with a lactose intolerance. A bowl of ice cream or cereal may be calling your name, but if gastrointestinal upset soon follows, this conclusion could be a logical one. Of course, there are other possible explanations, but before you can know for sure, you must first understand the signs and symptoms that typically accompany lactose intolerance.
Lactose Intolerance Signs and Symptoms
Lactose is the sugar found in most dairy products. It is digested by the enzyme lactase, which is produced by the small intestine. However, some people do not produce enough of this enzyme to properly break down and digest lactose. In these cases, the person is lactose intolerant and is likely to suffer some distressing gastrointestinal symptoms whenever dairy is consumed. These symptoms may include:
When an intolerance is present, these signs tend to manifest quickly after consuming products high in lactose, such as milk or yogurt. The time from consumption to onset of symptoms can range from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Diagnosing and Treating Lactose Intolerance
If you suspect that you have an intolerance to lactose, there is a simple test
can perform to confirm a diagnosis. To begin, you will be asked to avoid all dairy and milk products for a period of time (typically 1 to 2 weeks). Then, you will return to your doctor’s office, where you will consume a lactose-laden beverage followed by a hydrogen breath test. While the initial period of lactose avoidance can provide a strong indication of intolerance should symptoms subside, the breath test offers a definitive diagnosis.
Fortunately, lactose intolerance is easily managed, and a diagnosis does not mean that you can never again enjoy milk or dairy. For most patients, the body can handle lactose at lower levels, meaning that finding products containing less lactose is often a viable solution. Additionally, there are over-the-counter lactase supplements available to take with dairy in order to help the body digest it properly.
If you believe that you are suffering from lactose intolerance and would like a diagnosis or guidance on maintaining your
contact Digestive Diseases Center
. Any one of our
can help you better understand and manage this and any
other digestive condition