What Are the Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?

milk bottle

Up to 70 percent of the world population is lactose intolerant to some degree. In general, lactose intolerance is fairly harmless, though uncomfortable. Still, the severity of symptoms varies, and, for some people, lactose intolerance can cause serious discomfort or pain and even decrease overall quality of life. 

But lactose intolerance isn’t always easy to diagnose, since many people only become lactose intolerant upon reaching adulthood. Also, lactose intolerance symptoms can look like those of at least half a dozen other gastrointestinal ailments. Not to mention, with how backed up the medical system is at the moment, just getting in to see a specialist can take months. 

Here’s what you need to know about the causes and symptoms of lactose intolerance and how, now, with modern innovative technologies you can quickly get an accurate diagnosis – so you can get on living  your best life. 

What causes lactose intolerance? 

Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and products made with milk. Lactose intolerance is different from a food allergy. It occurs when your body doesn’t have enough of the digestive enzyme called lactase to break down milk sugars. An insufficient amount of lactase can result in negative symptoms like bloating or diarrhea, among others. 

Lactose intolerance can be divided into three types based on the various causes. 

Type #1: Primary lactose intolerance

In primary lactose intolerance, by far the most common type, symptoms do not show up in infants, but often show up in the teen or adult years. In many cases, the ailment is hereditary and passed down through families. Some ethnicities are more prone to lactose intolerance than others; for example, people of Asian, Mexican, African, or Native American descent are more likely to be lactose intolerant, while individuals of European descent are often less so. 

The defining feature of this type of lactose intolerance is that it can occur suddenly upon an individual reaching adulthood. There’s no cure for primary lactose intolerance, though you can manage symptoms through dietary changes. 

Type #2: Secondary lactose intolerance

In some cases, the small intestine, which normally produces sufficient lactase to digest milk, can become damaged after an illness or injury. Other gastrointestinal illnesses that can cause secondary lactose intolerance include SIBO, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and infections. Chemotherapy, small intestinal surgeries, and antibiotics can also be contributing factors. Over time, proper treatment of the underlying cause can cure secondary lactose intolerance. 

Type #3: Developmental lactose intolerance

Developmental lactose intolerance, also called congenital lactose intolerance, is extremely rare. Unlike primary lactose intolerance, this type occurs when babies are actually born with insufficient or a total lack of lactase. Developmental lactose intolerance is so unusual because it requires a specific gene variant to be passed on from both parents instead of just one. There are also certain rare cases in which infants born prematurely cannot produce sufficient lactase to process milk. 

Symptoms of lactose intolerance

If you’re lactose intolerant, you may experience the following symptoms anytime from half an hour to two hours after eating or drinking something that contains lactose:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Diarrhea

If you do have these symptoms after consuming milk and for any reason you’re unable to get a quick diagnosis, consider avoiding foods that contain lactose, such as milk, cheese, butter, etc. If your symptoms are severe, you may also want to avoid processed food items that state they may contain milk or dairy products on the label. If you already have a diagnosis of severe lactose intolerance, you should also be careful of prescription medications, as many contain lactose. On the other hand, if your symptoms are not especially severe, you may be able to tolerate small amounts of lactose. 

Getting a diagnosis

In most instances, lactose intolerance simply causes discomfort. Occasionally, it can cause a calcium deficiency, and in even rarer cases that affect less than one percent of the population, malnutrition due to actual intestinal damage. Getting a diagnosis can help you know what to avoid and how to improve your quality of life going forward. 

A hydrogen breath test, like the one AllClear Healthcare offers, is a state of the art test for lactose intolerance offering accuracy very similar to more intrusive and difficult to schedule lab tests. Previously, you would have had to wait for an appointment with your primary care physician and perhaps a specialist to get access to such a test. Thankfully, these tests are now sold affordably online for home use, allowing you to send in breath samples for lab processing and verification. Alternatively, you can go to a dedicated testing center for same-day results, again without the need for a visit to your primary care physician. (MAYBE? – Beware of the in-home wearable tests as accuracy is not know to be acceptably accurate for certainty of result)

Based on how common lactose intolerance is and how strained the health care system has become, it’s time to take control of your own health when it comes to getting a diagnosis for common gastrointestinal illnesses. Now, it’s easier than ever before to do just that.