Lactose intolerance

Specialty of Allergy & immunology

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a food intolerance that occurs after the ingestion of lactose. Lactose is a sugar that’s found in milk. To diagnose this intolerance, three medical tests can be performed; a lactose tolerance test, lactose-hydrogen breath test and a faecal pH test.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?

Symptoms usually occur between 30 minutes and two hours after the ingestion of products with lactose. The most frequent symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Bloating and abdominal distension
  • Muscle spasms
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal gas and flatulence
  • Floating stools
  • Redness of the perianal area
  • Vomiting

Other possible symptoms include:

  • Tiredness
  • Skin problems
  • Painful limbs
  • Nervousness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Sleeping problems

What causes lactose intolerance?

To digest lactose, the body needs an enzyme called lactase. Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine does not produce a sufficient amount of lactase to break down lactose, causing symptoms like those mentioned above.

Can lactose intolerance be prevented?

There is no way to prevent lactose intolerance, however, one can avoid consuming products with lactose or consume products that are lactose-free, such as lactose-free milk and cheese. Some people can still tolerate small amounts of lactose, however, if it is recommended to cut out lactose completely, the nutrients found in milk like calcium and vitamin D can be substituted with:

  • Almonds
  • Tofu
  • Beans
  • Kale
  • Soy milk
  • Egg yolks
  • Fatty fish like salmon

What is the treatment?

The only treatment for lactose intolerance is to reduce or avoid its intake. You can also take lactase enzyme supplements to help your body to break down lactose.

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