Lactose intolerance develops when the body has difficulty digesting whole and skim milk and other dairy products. Lactose is a milk sugar and like most sugars, it is broken down by enzymes in the intestinal tract so it can be absorbed as an energy source. The enzyme that breaks down lactose is called lactase. When the intestine does not contain lactase, then lactose intolerance can occur. It is a troublesome and annoying problem, but it is never a serious one.
As commonly expected, infants and small children have the enzyme lactase so they can digest mothers’ milk. However, during childhood, lactase begins to disappear in many people. In USA 15% of people has lactose intolerance. Some ethnic groups are more likely to develop lactose intolerance by adolescence. It is present in about 75% of African-Americans, Jews, Native Americans, Mexicans, and in 90% of Asians. So the condition is very common.
Nausea, abdominal cramps and rumbling, bloating, rectal gas (flatus), and diarrhea usually occur 30 minutes to two hours after ingesting lactose-containing foods. The severity of lactose intolerant symptoms usually depends on the amount of lactose ingested and how much of the enzyme, lactase, remains in the intestinal tract.
History certainly provides clues in the diagnosis but it needs to be definitely established because it gives basis for strict adherence to dairy free diet and also unnecessary avoidance of milk is harmful as it provides important nutrients such as calcium.
Hydrogen Breath Test is measurement of hydrogen in breath after ingestion of a lactose meal, with the help of an analyzer machine.
The lactose intolerance treatment plan depends on whether a patient is willing to tolerate the symptoms. If the symptoms are mild, then avoiding large amounts of milk and milk products may be enough. All foods should be carefully checked for presence of milk products. Use milk to which lactase enzyme, has been added. Lactase drops or tablets are also available.
Consult our board certified physician in Riverdale NJ, for then best treatment for lactose intolerance.