Lactose intolerance is when a patient’s digestive system cannot break down lactose – a type of sugar that is found in milk. A lack of lactase, the enzyme used to digest lactose, is the root cause of most cases of lactose intolerance.
Often, being lactose intolerant is harmless but can lead to uncomfortable and embarrassing symptoms. Symptoms typically occur within the first two hours after drinking milk or consuming products with dairy.
If you always seem to feel discomfort after consuming milk-based products, then you might want to see a gastroenterologist for an evaluation. The major symptoms of lactose intolerance include the following:
Abdominal Pain or Bloating
Abdominal pain and bloating can happen when the body cannot digest lactose and instead passes it directly to the colon. However, cells lining the colon cannot absorb carbohydrates like lactose, so the colonic bacteria cause the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
The naturally occurring bacteria that live in the colon can ferment and break lactose down. The resulting acids and gases can lead to abdominal pain and cramps. Usually, you can feel the pain around the navel and the lower half of the abdomen.
Bloating, on the other hand, is caused when the amount of water and gas increases in the colon. The intensity of bloating and pain is not related to how much lactose you ingested, but it is rather due to your sensitivity. These symptoms can also result in nausea or vomiting.
An increased frequency, volume, and liquidity in your stool comprise diarrhea. It is caused by lactose intolerance when the water volume increases in the colon.
The colon absorbs most of the acids and gases fermented from lactose, but the remaining acids and lactose will increase the amount of water left in the colon. As a result, this increases the stool’s volume and liquid content.
Lactose fermentation in the colon causes an increase in gas and flatulence. The gas produced from lactose fermentation has no odor, but the breakdown of proteins in the gut can cause an odor.
Lactose Intolerance vs. Dairy Allergy
Many people would assume that these two are the same, but the main difference is that lactose intolerance involves the digestive system, whereas dairy allergy involves the immune system’s adverse response to milk products.
With lactose intolerance, your body lacks lactase, which is essential in digesting lactose. Therefore, it may cause discomfort, but it is usually not dangerous.
On the other hand, dairy allergy is when your immune system treats dairy as an invader to your body. Because of this, the body exhibits allergic reactions that can range from mild symptoms to severe reactions which can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.
Testing for Lactose Intolerance in Cleveland
If you think you may be lactose intolerant, see an experienced gastroenterologist. Here at North Shore Gastroenterology, we offer quick and easy lactose intolerance testing here in our office. We will determine whether your abdominal issues are due to milk digestion problems or some other issue.
For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact us at (440) 808-1212 or request an appointment with us to address your health concerns. Our doctors will help you get back to feeling great and energetic again!