Lactose intolerance is a condition characterized by your body’s inability to digest lactose (commonly called as milk sugar) that is found in milk and dairy products.
It occurs when the enzyme lactase is not produced by the small intestine that leads to breakdown of lactose. In the absence of the enzyme lactase the undigested lactose moves into the large intestine as such and causes symptoms of gas, diarrhea and bloating.
Lactose intolerance can either be primary (as a result of normal aging) or secondary (due to an illness or injury). Primary lactose intolerance is very common among adults and most of the population suffers from primary lactose intolerance to some degree.
However, some people are born with a rare case of congenital or developmental lactose intolerance. This is usually an inherited disorder in which the baby is intolerant to breast milk and they will suffer from episodes of diarrhea as soon as milk is fed to them or any other formulation that contains lactose.
What Are The Symptoms Of Lactose Intolerance In Adults?
Lactose intolerance symptoms in adults usually occur after 30 minutes to two hours of consuming milk or dairy products, and include abdominal cramps, pain or bloating, flatulence or gas, diarrhea, and sometimes nausea and vomiting.
Other symptoms of lactose intolerance occurring immediately after consuming milk such as hives, wheezing indicates milk allergy, which means you are allergic to milk protein casein and not necessarily lactose intolerant.
You can also do a test at home to know if you are lactose intolerant by consuming milk for several days without intake of other dairy products and if you still experience the symptoms of lactose intolerance then you probably have the condition. The doctors also perform a number of tests to confirm if you have lactose intolerance such as genetic testing, blood test (for lactose intolerance), breath test for hydrogen, checking the stool for acidity, and biopsy of the intestine. Out of these, the breath test of hydrogen is more predominantly used to confirm the diagnosis of lactose intolerance in adults. In this test, you are asked to consume a liquid that has a fixed amount of lactose in it and after that, you breathe into a device, which measures the amount of hydrogen in your breath. In lactose intolerant people, hydrogen and methane is released by the intestinal bacteria after the digestion of sugar, which is detected by the device.
In the lactose intolerance test for blood, two hours after drinking a lactose solution blood is drawn and tested for glucose (formed on breaking of lactose). If the level of glucose in your blood does not rise, it indicates your body is not digesting the lactose. Further, an invasive technique can also be used to take a sample of your intestinal lining via a long, thin, and sterile surgical instrument called an endoscope. The taken sample is then tested for the activity of lactase. Acidity of stool is tested for children and infants who are unable to undergo other tests for lactose intolerance. In this, a rise in stool acidity or pH is found, which is caused by lactose fermenting bacteria present in the colon. Genetic tests are done by taking blood or saliva as a sample (lactose consumption is not required).
Treatment of Lactose Intolerance In Adults
Treatment of lactose intolerance in adults mainly involves around dietary restriction of milk and dairy products, since there is no natural way to increase the production of lactase in the body.
In some people, decreasing the intake of milk is beneficial. Consumption of lactose free products is advisable, but in some cases, people can still consume hard cheese such as cheddar, Swiss cheese and parmesan and cultured milk products like yogurt without experiencing any symptoms.
Over the counter lactase enzyme is also available in the form of capsules, pills and drops, which can be taken before consuming any dairy product. In the long run symptoms will not recur if milk and milk products are removed from the diet.
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