Lactose Intolerance Symptoms and How to Treat Them

lactose intolerance symptoms

If you are lactose intolerant, you may love eating cheese and ice cream but your body does not – and it will tell you so. Lactose is a natural sugar found in dairy products that can prompt painful symptoms if not properly digested.

Lactose intolerance is a common health condition – affecting about 65 percent of people after infancy. Sensitivity varies from person to person – some people can tolerate small amounts of dairy while others cannot consume it at all.

Which Foods Have Lactose?

Lactose is found in all dairy products, including:

  • Buttermilk
  • Cheese
  • Ice cream
  • Milk
  • Sour cream
  • Whey protein powder
  • Whipped cream
  • Yogurt

Lactose is also an ingredient in some prescription medications, such as birth control pills, and over-the-counter antacids.

Lactose Intolerance Symptoms

The LCT gene provides instructions for making lactase enzymes, which help break down lactose into two smaller sugars – glucose and galactose – to be absorbed by our bodies. Nearly all infants and young children have these enzymes but they disappear over time, causing many adults to be unable to properly digest lactose.

Between 30 minutes and two hours after consuming dairy, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Bloating
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Diagnosing Lactose Intolerance

If you experience these symptoms after eating dairy, visit your doctor. They can determine if you are lactose intolerant by conducting one or more of the following tests:

Hydrogen breath test

Your doctor will have you drink a liquid with high levels of lactose and will then measure the amount of hydrogen in your breath. If your body does not digest the lactose, it will ferment in the colon, releasing hydrogen and other gases.

Lactose tolerance test

Two hours after drinking a liquid high in lactose, you will undergo tests to measure the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. If your glucose level does not rise, your body is not properly digesting lactose.

Stool acidity test

Your doctor will measure the amount of lactic acid and other acids in a stool sample. This is primarily used for infants and children.

Managing Lactose Intolerance

There is no cure for lactose intolerance, but it can easily be managed. The best way to prevent uncomfortable symptoms is to avoid dairy products, especially those that seem to give you the most trouble.

Some foods, like cheese and yogurt, are naturally lower in lactose, and you can buy dairy products that are specially formulated to be lactose-free. You can also take dietary supplements that help you digest lactose.

Supplementing your diet with probiotics can also ease symptoms. The live cultures in fermented vegetables, kefir and kombucha can help maintain a healthy digestive tract and potentially improve lactose tolerance.

Many people who are lactose intolerant are concerned about getting enough calcium. Other foods with high levels of this mineral include:

  • Almonds
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Leafy greens
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tofu
  • Tuna

There is some good news for today’s lactose intolerant individuals. Many delicious dairy substitutes have been developed and made widely available at local grocers nationwide, including everything from coconut milk ice cream to cashew-based cream cheese.

Prompt, Comprehensive Treatment at Complete Care

Lactose intolerance symptoms can put your life on hold, but they don’t have to. If you are experiencing severe diarrhea, pain or vomiting, Complete Care can help. Our emergency room facilities are fully-equipped to treat major and minor medical needs, without the long wait times found at traditional hospital-based ERs. We are conveniently located in Colorado Springs and throughout Texas to provide the care you need wherever you are. Visit our locations page to find the ER or urgent care nearest you.