GI Problems FAQs

Lactose Intolerance


What is lactose intolerance?
If you are lactose intolerant your body is unable to digest lactose, the sugar in dairy products.

What causes lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is caused by either a deficiency of lactase in the body. Lactase is the enzyme needed to break down lactose into smaller components for digestion.
If your intestine is deficient in lactase, your own gut bacteria break down the lactose, generally giving off hydrogen as a bi-product.  This can cause bloating, cramps and diarrhea.  Lactose is the most sensitive enzyme on the intestinal surface.  It can be shed with an event as simple as a viral infection, and it may never recover.  Thus, a person can be lactose tolerant one day and intolerant over the next few weeks or months.  In rare cases, Lactose Intolerance can occur permanently. Approximately 60% of Caucasian adults and 90% of African American adults are lactose intolerant.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
Symptoms of lactose intolerance vary with the degree of lactase deficiency. A very mild deficiency may not experience any symptoms at all but a greater lactase deficiency can lead to bloating, loose stools and crampy abdominal pain.

How is lactose intolerance diagnosed?
The first step is to eliminate cow’s milk from your diet to see if the symptoms go away.  If symptoms persist there are several diagnostic tests to determine lactose intolerance.

  • Lactose intolerance test-requires fasting and then drinking a liquid that contains lactose. Several blood samples are then taken to measure the person’s blood glucose (blood sugar) level.
  • Hydrogen breath test-a lactose beverage is given, after digesting the beverage hydrogen levels are tested which indicate improper digestion of lactose.
  • Stool acidity test-measures the amount of acid in the stool.

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