Lactose Intolerance is a generalized term used when people experience uncomfortable digestive symptoms after consuming dairy products. During the digestive process food is digested and broken down into nutrients that are then absorbed into the bloodstream to be used by the body. The small intestine produces an enzyme, lactase, that breaks down lactose into simple sugars. If there is not enough lactase to break down the lactose, it will travel on into the large intestine where bacteria break the molecules down and produce gas and fluid in the process.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms can vary widely in severity and occur 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming dairy products. Common symptoms include:
In order to be diagnosed with lactose intolerance, your physician will ask you about your medical history, diet, and symptoms. A simple hydrogen breath test can tell you doctor how much hydrogen is in the air you exhale. Normally there is very little hydrogen in the breath, but undigested lactose produces hydrogen and leaves a trace for the test to recognize.
Treatment for lactose intolerance can be as simple as making dietary changes. Some people can just limit the amount of dairy in their daily diet, others need to eliminate it completely. Some products are on the market that contain the enzyme lactase, ingesting these tablets before eating dairy can help some people enjoy an occasion bowl of ice cream or a slice of pizza.
There are two things to consider after being diagnosed with lactose intolerance- adequate nutrition and hidden dairy in products. It is helpful to discuss your nutritional needs with your healthcare provider and learn to read labels carefully. Also, advise your pharmacist of your condition as some medications both prescription and over-the-counter contain lactose.
Many GI conditions share symptoms. Diarrhea and bloating could very well be caused by lactose intolerance, but both are also symptoms of IBS, Celiac disease, IBD, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth. If you are experiencing ongoing issues it is important to be diagnosed by a gastroenterologist. Contact Cary Gastroenterology for an appointment to discuss your symptoms and get to the root of the problem.