Lactose Intolerance Symptoms & Treatment
Lactose is a sugar found in milk and milk products. Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine does not produce enough of the lactase enzyme, which breaks down lactose into two simpler sugars that the body then absorbs into the bloodstream.
Because those with lactose intolerance cannot digest the sugar in milk, they typically experience symptoms such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea within 30 minutes to two hours after consuming dairy products. However, the majority of people with lactose intolerance can typically tolerate a certain amount of lactose without experiencing symptoms. Plus, the condition can be managed without having to give up all dairy foods.
Lactose intolerance may be confused with a milk allergy. Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder that is generally harmless, whereas a milk allergy is an immune system reaction to milk proteins that can be life threatening.
Lactose intolerance occurs when your small intestine doesn't produce enough of an enzyme (lactase) to digest milk sugar (lactose), a condition known as lactase deficiency. When this happens, the lactose doesn’t get broken down and absorbed in the small intestine. Instead, it passes into the colon, where it interacts with bacteria to cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
There are four types of lactose deficiency that can result in lactose intolerance:
The most common type is primary lactase deficiency, which causes a gradual decrease of lactase production over time. It typically begins in young children although the symptoms of lactose intolerance may not appear until late adolescence or adulthood. Scientists believe this type of lactase deficiency may be genetic.
Secondary lactase deficiency occurs due to an illness or injury that damages the small intestine, such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, gastroenteritis, chemotherapy, or intestinal surgery. It can usually be resolved by treating the underlying cause.
Some infants may be born with lactase deficiency. Developmental lactase deficiency occurs in premature babies and goes away shortly after birth. Congenital lactase deficiency is an extremely rare inherited disorder.
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