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Lactose intolerance is the inability to break down a type of sugar called lactose. Lactose is commonly found in dairy products such as milk and milk products. Lactose intolerance is caused due to the insufficient production of an intestinal enzyme in the body called lactase. The role of the enzyme lactase is to split lactose into two smaller sugars which are glucose and galactose which can be absorbed in the stomach.

People above the age of 21 years usually develop lactose intolerance. It rarely occurs due to a genetic deficiency. Every person is born with lactase and also has the ability to break down lactose to glucose and galactose or has the ability to digest lactose. It is due to a genetic problem that the person develops this condition after the age of 21 years. When lactose moves through the intestine it causes pain and discomfort.

Most of the people manage lactose intolerance condition without compromising on the intake of dairy products such as milk, yogurt etc.


There are three types of lactose intolerance. They are:

Primary lactose intolerance is the most common type of lactose intolerance. The lactase content in a person decreases with age due to the diverse diet one follows. This is known as primary lactose intolerance.

Secondary lactose intolerance is the reduction of lactase due to the development of various illnesses such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.

Congenital or developmental lactose intolerance occurs in rare cases as every person is born with good amount of lactase in the body. Infants require lactase to breakdown lactose present in the mother’s milk. Therefore this type of lactose intolerance occurs in rare cases and it is an inherited type of lactose intolerance.


The signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance begin after having food which contains lactose in it. The common signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance are:

  • Gas formation in the stomach
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Flatulence
  • Indigestion


The following are the causes of lactose intolerance:

  • A family history of lactose intolerance may cause the condition and the symptoms usually begin to appear during the teen and early adult years.
  • Illnesses such as cystic fibrosis or a flu or infection in the stomach may cause lactose intolerance.
  • In case of a surgery, the small intestine may stop the production of lactase in the body and therefore this may cause lactose intolerance in the person. This condition may either be temporary or permanent.
  • In rare cases the child is born with this condition and will not be able to have anything that contains lactose. This is because the child is not yet ready to produce lactase.



The doctor may suspect lactose intolerance in a person based on the signs and symptoms of the condition. The following are the tests performed to diagnose the condition.

  • Lactose tolerance test is a test that checks the body’s reaction to a liquid which has high levels of lactose in it. A blood test is performed two hours after drinking the liquid. It is to determine the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. If the glucose level does not increase it means that absorption and digestion process is not taking place properly in the body. 
  • Stool acidity test is performed for children and infants who cannot undergo any other tests to diagnose lactose intolerance. For children suffering from lactose intolerance, the stool consists of lactic acid and other acids that are formed from undigested lactose.
  • Hydrogen breath test is a test which requires the person to drink a liquid that contains high levels of lactose. The doctor measures the amount of hydrogen in the breath at regular intervals. Normally, very low amount of hydrogen is detected in the test, the undigested lactose gets fermented in the colon and therefore people suffering with lactose intolerance may exhale more amount of hydrogen. More amount of hydrogen indicates that the presence of undigested and unabsorbed lactose in the body.


The different ways to avoid or reduce the discomfort faced due to lactose intolerance are:

  • Avoid consuming large quantity of milk and various other dairy products such as yogurt, curd, cheese etc.
  • Have small servings of dairy products
  • Try having ice cream and milk which does not have more amount of lactose
  • Have regular milk with added powder to break down lactose sugar in the milk

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