DefinitionLactose intolerance is gastrointestinal upset due to the inability to digest significant quantities of lactose. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and other dairy products.
CausesLactose intolerance is caused by a reduction in the digestive enzyme lactase. Lactase breaks down the sugar lactose into sugars that can be more easily absorbed. When not fully broken down, lactose ferments in the colon and causes symptoms.Some people are born unable to make lactase. Others develop the intolerance over time.
Risk FactorsFactors that increase your risk of lactose intolerance include:
- Black, Asian, or Native American race
- Jewish ethnicity
- Family history of lactose intolerance
- Having certain illnesses or conditions that can damage the intestinal tract such as:
SymptomsSymptoms of lactose intolerance generally begin within two hours of consuming milk or other dairy products. The severity of symptoms depends on how much lactase your body produces and how much lactose you eat.Lactose intolerance may cause:
- Abdominal rumbling sounds
- Loose stools
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DiagnosisThe doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may recommend a trial period of eating no milk or milk products to see if symptoms resolve.Your doctor may want to perform tests to help make the diagnosis. These may include:
- Hydrogen breath test
- Stool acidity test
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