Discomfort from lactose intolerance usually manifests 30 minutes to 2 hours after a meal containing milk products is eaten. Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include:
- Pain or cramps
- Rumbling or gurgling sounds in the belly
- Loose stools or diarrhea
- Vomiting (less common)
- Nausea (less common)
ARE MY SYMPTOMS LACTOSE INTOLERANCE?
Feeling sick after eating ice cream one time is probably not lactose intolerance, but feeling sick every time after eating ice cream or other dairy products could be a sign that you may be lactose intolerant. You should make an appointment with your doctor if you frequently have symptoms of lactose intolerance after eating dairy foods, especially if you’re worried about getting enough calcium because you’ve begun avoiding dairy to prevent discomfort.
You can use trial and error to find out what foods cause symptoms and how severe those symptoms are, but you will need to see your doctor for a confirmation of the diagnosis. You may be sensitive to even small amounts of foods that have lactose, or you may have symptoms only if you eat large amounts of lactose-containing foods. Lactose intolerance is different for everyone.
HOW SEVERE ARE MY SYMPTOMS GOING TO BE?
Symptoms of lactose intolerance can vary in severity from mild to severe. One reason for this variability in severity is that different people have different amounts of lactose in their diet. As a general rule, the more the lactose in the diet, the more severe the symptoms are likely to be. Another reason for this wide variability in severity of symptoms is that different people have differing severities of lactase enzyme deficiency – they may have mild, moderate, or severe reduction in the amounts of lactase in their intestines.
COULD IT BE SOMETHING ELSE?
Pain, cramps, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and vomiting are nonspecific symptoms that are not diagnostic of lactose intolerance in and of themselves. A simple test to differentiate between symptoms caused by lactose intolerance versus other causes is the elimination diet or milk challenge. This involves eliminating all milk and dairy products from your diet and observing for symptom relief. If symptoms abate, you could try adding back small amounts of dairy to see if your symptoms return.
WHY HAVE I SUDDENLY DEVELOPED LACTOSE INTOLERANCE?
Sometimes symptoms of lactose intolerance may develop precipitously in people who have never had problems with milk or dairy products before. This is more common in older people who may have stopped producing lactase as they age. If lactose intolerance is suspected, consultation with a health care professional can help differentiate between symptoms caused by lactose intolerance or other problems in the gut.
HOW CAN I KNOW FOR SURE THAT I HAVE LACTOSE INTOLERANCE?
Diseases and conditions that mimic the symptoms caused by lactose intolerance include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), overuse of laxatives, and problems digesting fructose or sorbitol. To make a diagnosis of lactose intolerance, your physician will ask you questions about your symptoms. He or she may ask you to avoid dairy products for a short period of time to see if your symptoms improve. Occasionally your doctor may order a hydrogen breath test or a blood sugar test to confirm the diagnosis. These tests check to see if lactose is being normally digested.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LACTOSE INTOLERANCE IN CHILDREN?
If a baby or child has symptoms of lactose intolerance, seeking medical attention is imperative. A common symptom of this condition is diarrhea, and this can be very dangerous as it can lead to dehydration, which is a serious problem requiring immediate treatment. Breast-fed babies do not develop lactose intolerance because breast milk contains lactase, the enzyme that helps digest lactose.
A lot of people believe that they are lactose intolerant when they are not. This erroneous belief is common for one main reason. People with unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms are looking for an explanation for their symptoms. Since lactose intolerance is a well-known and common condition, it provides people with a ready and welcome explanation for their symptoms. Confirmation of lactose intolerance should not be based solely on symptoms. It should be made objectively and with careful correlation between ingestion of milk or milk products and symptoms.