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Lactose Intolerance

Definition

Lactose intolerance is a common problem. Lactose is a sugar found primarily in dairy products (milk, cheese, ice cream). Lactose intolerance occurs when the intestine cannot digest lactose.

Symptoms

Some people have little or no symptoms. Their colon is able to adjust and deal with the lactose. Many people, however, can be quite symptomatic. Common symptoms include: abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea. Vomiting is unusual. Pain is often crampy and located in the lower abdomen. Stools can be loose, frothy, or watery.

Diagnosis

  1. Lactose Tolerance test: This is a blood test that looks at glucose in the blood. The test involves having repeated blood draws after drinking a solution with lactose in it. This gives information about how well you can digest Lactose.
  2. Hydrogen Breath Test: The person drinks a lactose-loaded beverage and then the breath is analyzed at regular intervals to measure the amount of hydrogen. Normally, very little hydrogen is detectable in the breath, but undigested lactose produces high levels of hydrogen. Smoking and some foods and medications may affect the accuracy of the results
  3. Stool Acidity Test: The stool acidity test is used for infants and young children to measure the amount of acid in the stool. Undigested lactose creates lactic acid and other fatty acids that can be detected in a stool sample

Treatment

  1. Lactose restriction: The major dietary sources of lactose are milk, ice cream, and cheese. In the beginning lactose can be eliminated. As time goes on some lactose may be introduced again. 
  2. Enzyme replacement - One option is to take synthetic lactase. There are multiple commercially available products. Some are pills taken with meals and some are liquid which is actually added to the food (milk, for example).
  3. Calcium supplementation. Dairy products are the main source of dietary calcium. Restriction of dairy products can lead to inadequate calcium intake and predisposition to conditions such as osteoporosis. For this reason, people with lactose intolerance should also take a calcium supplement (such as Tums).

Summary

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which the body does not digest Lactose (a milk sugar) down for the body to use. The symptoms vary from person to person.  If you are lactose intolerant you will need to make sure you get enough calcium.

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