Lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products, is broken down within the small intestine by an enzyme called lactase. If the body doesn’t produce enough lactase, the lactose enters the colon undigested. The results can include gas, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain. Some patients experience little or no symptoms, but others experience symptoms beginning 20 minutes to two hours after consuming milk or milk products.
A diagnosis is made on the basis of family and diet history. The doctor will review symptoms, conduct a physical exam, and order tests to confirm the diagnosis. Because so many GI conditions share the same symptoms, it is important to have an accurate diagnosis. There are two common tests for lactose intolerance, a hydrogen breath test and a stool acidity test.
Lactose intolerance is managed by dietary changes based on each individual’s tolerance. Once diagnosed, it is important to be aware of lactose that may be “hidden” in products. Products that contain lactase help some people manage their symptoms. If you are having chronic GI symptoms, make an appointment with Dr. Islam to get the answers you need.