Subtle signs you have developed lactose intolerance

Milk allergy and lactose intolerance: What’s the difference?

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As lactose intolerance “can develop at any age”, says the NHS, you could be unwittingly experiencing signs of the condition. The common digestive problem could flare up within a few hours of consuming milk, butter, cheese, cream, yoghurt, or ice cream. “The severity of your symptoms and when they appear depends on the amount of lactose you’ve consumed,” the NHS adds.

It also depends on your sensitivity to lactose, as some people could have a whole glass of milk without any issues while another would present with symptoms after having a drop of milk in their tea or coffee.

If you notice your “stomach rumbling”, it could be a sign of lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance could also lead to flatulence (farting) and a bloated stomach.

While these signs of the condition could easily be overlooked, more telling signs include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach cramps and pains
  • Feeling sick.

Not having an adequate supply of lactase, the milk sugar lactose can not be broken down into glucose and galactose.

Glucose and galactose can easily be absorbed into the bloodstream, but lactose can not.

If lactose is not broken down, the milk sugar stays in the digestive system where it’s fermented by bacteria.

“This leads to the production of various gases, which cause the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance,” the NHS explains.

Why is the body not producing enough lactase?

Most people first notice the signs of lactose intolerance between the ages of 20 to 40.

The primary cause of lactase deficiency is caused by an inherited genetic fault.

As you become less reliant on dairy products, primary lactase deficiency can develop, although symptoms might not appear until adulthood.

Secondary lactase deficiency could occur because of:

  • Gastroenteritis
  • Coeliac disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Chemotherapy
  • Long courses of antibiotics.

“Your body’s production of lactase naturally reduces as you get older,” the national health service points out.

Should I see the doctor?

The NHS advises that you do so in order to rule out other health conditions.

Before visiting your physician, the NHS recommends keeping a diary of what you eat and drink, and the symptoms you experience.

There are three tests for lactose intolerance; the first is a hydrogen breath test.

“You’ll be asked to avoid eating or drinking during the night before the test,” the NHS says.

During the test, you’ll be asked to blow up a “balloon-link bag”; the sample of your breath will determine how much hydrogen is present.

“You’ll then be given a drink of lactose solution and your breath will be tested every 15 minutes over the next few hours to see if the level of hydrogen changes,” the NHS adds.

Having a large amount of hydrogen, more than 20 parts per million (ppm), suggests lactose intolerance as it is one of the gases produced when lactose is fermented by bacteria in the gut.

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