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Do I Have Lactose Intolerance?

Do I Have Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance occurs when the body is unable to digest lactose. Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar found in milk and other dairy products. When the body is unable to digest lactose properly, many digestive problems can occur. Lactose malabsorption occurs when the small intestine does not produce adequate amounts of the enzyme lactase. This enzyme is what the body uses to digest lactose. Lets learn the symptoms associated with lactose sensitivity and the treatment options available.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

If you are suffering with lactose intolerance, symptoms usually occur within 2 hours of consuming dairy products. These symptoms can be mild, moderate or even severe. After some time passes, the symptoms will begin to diminish. Intolerant individuals often experience stomach cramps, gas, diarrhea, vomiting, bloating and a rumbly belly.

Causes of Lactose Intolerance

There are three main reasons an intolerance occurs, including congenital causes, developmental causes and secondary causes. Each cause will be discussed below to help you ascertain if it is hereditary or if something else caused it to occur.

Those who are unable to tolerate lactose from birth are said to have a congenital cause for lactose intolerance. This type of tolerance occurs due to gene mutations. It is very rare for a person to have a congenital cause. The medical profession calls this type of intolerance a hereditary lactase deficiency.

Developmental causes occur after childhood and continue through adulthood. As you get older, the lactase in the small intestine begins to decrease, causing the body's inability to properly digest dairy products. This is the most common cause for an intolerance to occur.

Finally, secondary causes can occur when the small intestine lining becomes damaged or destroyed. This can be due to a medical condition, such as cystic fibrosis, or surgery where part of the small intestine is removed. Secondary causes are often labeled as adult-type hypolactasia.

Risk Factors

Certain factors can increase your risk of adult-type hypolactasia. Age, race, medications and diseases can all increase your risk of developing this painful condition.

As you age, your chances of developing an intolerance increase. Scientists speculate, as the body gets older, it does not perform as well as it once did. Your small intestine is where the enzyme lactase is produced. As your digestive tract begins to slow, the body is unable to produce enough enzyme to properly digest milk sugars.

Certain cancer medications and treatments can increase your risk of developing a sensitivity. Radiation performed on the abdominal area and chemotherapy can damage the intestinal tract, making the body unable to digest lactose.

An infant that is born prematurely is at an increased risk for being lactose intolerant. During the last trimester, the enzyme levels in the small intestine increases. If an infant is born prematurely, the baby's body has not properly developed enough lactase to digest milk products.

Your ethnicity can increase your risk of hereditary lactase deficiency. Those who have a Hispanic, Asian, African American or Native American bloodline are at an increased risk. 

Conversely, adult-type hypolactasia can be caused by bacterial overgrowth, Crohn's disease and celiac disease. Any type of disorder that upsets the delicate digestive tract makes you more apt to developing this condition.

Tests

Your doctor may be able to diagnose lactose intolerance during an office visit. He will ask numerous question, such as what products cause you problems, a description of your symptoms and how long you have been experiencing symptoms. If he suspects an issue, he will order one of the following tests.

A lactose tolerance test gauges how the body reacts to high levels of lactose. You must begin the test by drinking a solution comprised of lactose. Then after two hours, a blood test is performed to measure the amount of glucose found in the body. Another test, called the stool acidity test checks for fermented lactose in the stool. When lactose is undigested, lactic acid and other types of acids can be found in the stool sample. Finally, a hydrogen breath test can verify if you have a lactose intolerance by measuring the amount of hydrogen you exhale after drinking lactose.

Treatment Options

There are no medications available to cure lactose intolerance. Instead, those who cannot digest lactose should avoid eating dairy products or products designed for lactose intolerant people. Several products marketed for those who are lactose intolerant. These products contain lactase to help break down lactose into usable sugars.

How to Get Enough Calcium

Because those suffering with lactose sensitivities often find it difficult to consume enough calcium, they may benefit from taking a calcium supplement. In addition, to taking a calcium supplement, those with lactose intolerances should consume a diet in calcium rich foods, such as spinach, calcium fortified juices and canned sardines or salmon. You should strive to receive about 1,000 micrograms of calcium each day.

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