10 Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance You Should Know About

Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest lactose which is the sugar molecule in milk. When milk or products which contain milk are consumed, lactose intolerance occurs and it gives rise to gastrointestinal symptoms.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is caused by lack of the intestinal enzyme, lactase. In order for lactose to be absorbed from the intestine, it must first be separated into two smaller sugars: glucose and galactose. The intestinal enzyme lactase splits lactose into glucose and galactose and it is located on the surface of the cells lining the small intestine. Lactase deficiency or absent activity of lactase prevents the splitting of lactose and also prevents absorption of it. That is the reason why lactose intolerance occurs.

Types of Lactose Intolerance

There are several types of lactose intolerance: primary, secondary, developmental and congenital.

Primary lactase deficiency is the most common type of lactose intolerance and it means that your lactase production decreased with age.

Secondary lactase deficiency results from a problem with your small intestine.

Congenital lactose intolerance is the rarest one and it happens when a baby is born with minimal or complete absence of lactase activity. Symptoms are observed as soon as the baby is given milk or lactose formula and babies who suffer from this condition will require special lactose-free milk.

Developmental lactase deficiency occurs in premature babies. When a baby is born with very minimal levels of lactase, it takes time to build up a reasonable amount of lactase in the digestive system and this causes temporary lactose intolerance. However, this condition disappears as the baby grows up.

Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

The symptoms are similar in adults, toddlers, and infants but some people do not have much symptoms, because severity of the symptoms of lactose intolerance depends on how much lactose you consume. In other words, the more lactose you consume, the more likely that symptoms will develop. Plus, the severity of symptoms might vary between different people.

While some of the individuals who have lactose intolerance can consume small amounts of lactose without developing symptoms, others might experience severe symptoms with minimal consumption of lactose. Here are 10 symptoms of lactose intolerance.

1. Bloating

Bloating usually happens when the digestive tract is under stress of any kind. You experience a feeling of tightness or fullness when the abdominal area swells up. Not only indigestion but also the digestive malfunctions like lactose intolerance can lead to bloating. As the foods contain lactose pass through the body, the bloating also reduces on its own.

2. Grumbling Sounds in the Belly

Many individuals who have lactose intolerance complain that their belly grumbles loudly, producing a loud, rumbling noise that can be heard externally. When lactose intolerant individuals consume dairy products, excessive amounts of gas are produced in their bowel and this leads to loud noise.

3. Abdominal Pain or Cramps

When lactose intolerant people consume milk or milk-products, they usually experience severe pain or cramps in their abdomen. This symptom begins an hour after the consumption. Plus, the cramps are usually sharp and staggering and can bring serious discomfort to the people. Although this intense abdominal pain might not last for very long, it can’t be easily ignored.

4. Flatulence

When your small intestine can’t digest lactose, it passes on food particles to the large intestines in a condition of semi-digestion. The gut bacteria will ferment the undigested food and this causes gas to be produced. Then, your body naturally expels this gas in the form of flatulence. Also, lactose intolerant individuals tend to produce very odorous gas.

5. Nausea

In lactose intolerant people, the milk-containing food particles may rest in the gut without the slightest digestion taking place. This may force the body to expel the food by causing the affected individual to feel nauseous. The lactose intolerant person might either give in to the impulse of throwing up or wait for the feeling to pass in time. It depends on how strong or weak their gag reflex is.

6. Vomiting

Indigestion may cause a lactose intolerant person to feel nauseous and sometimes nausea may be accompanied with vomiting. Some individuals find themselves to be more at ease once they have vomited, since the feeling of fullness and other abdominal discomfort are relieved.

7. Abnormal Stool

Another common sign of lactose intolerance is diarrhea. When the small intestine can’t absorb the undigested lactose, it passes to the colon. Then, the colon absorbs the water from the stool containing undigested lactose and turns it into a more solid form. After that, the colonic bacteria break down the lactose molecules producing liquid matter and gas. Therefore, many instances in the stool will be loose and runny.

8. Painful Bowel Movement

An individual might have painful bowel movement when loose motions occur due to indigestion caused by lactose consumption. This occurs when lactose intolerant person passes stool frequently and the bowel movement is forceful. The anal cavity becomes sore and painful, and sometimes blood can appear in the stool. However, it occurs very rarely and such a scenario is typical to very severely lactose intolerant people who consume a very huge amount of dairy product.

9. Weight Loss

For some individuals, this problem remains undiagnosed for a very long time especially if they become lactose intolerant suddenly, maybe after some other illness has destroyed the function of their small intestine. In this situation, they may still keep consuming dairy products. Also, severe diarrhea due to lactose intolerance can lead to weight loss. For this reason, a weight-loss accompanied with the other symptoms of digestive malfunction can be a sign of lactose intolerance.

10. Fatigue

Lactose intolerant people may experience fatigue after a spell of symptoms related lactose intolerance. When the body experiences this discomfort and agitation for a long time, it will be low on energy. However, energy levels will be restored easily once the individual stop eating dairy foods.

Diagnosis of Lactose Intolerance

If you experience these symptoms after consuming milk, dairy products or other lactose-containing foods, you may have lactose intolerance. However, if there is any doubt, you can easily get special tests performed on your breath or blood. Moreover, there are other tests that are useful for diagnosing lactose intolerance or lactase deficiency, including a stool acidity test, intestinal biopsy and genetic testing looking for the gene that controls the production of lactase. Lactose intolerance can also be diagnosed by removing lactose from your diet and observing for a disappearance of symptoms of lactose intolerance.

How to Relieve Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance

If you have lactose intolerance, you should check the labels of foods and drinks very carefully before consuming them. You should look not only for milk and lactose in the contents but also for such words like whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids, and non-fat dry milk powder. If any of these are listed on a label, the item contains lactose.

Not all foods with milk in them will lead to symptoms. For instance, lactose is broken down by fermentation processes and hard cheese such as cheddar, parmesan or emmenthal do not contain lactose. On the other hand, foods that may lead to problems include milk, cream, cottage cheese, yoghurts, ice cream and milk chocolate. Lactose is usually hidden in processed foods. You should be aware of the many food products that may contain lactose, even in small amounts. Foods containing hidden lactose may include:

  • Bread
  • Baked goods
  • Processed breakfast cereals
  • Instant potatoes, soups, and breakfast drinks
  • Margarine
  • Processed meats such as ham
  • Salad dressings
  • Candies
  • Chips and other processed snacks
  • Mixes for pancakes, biscuits, and cookies
  • Soft cheeses
  • Nondairy whipped toppings
  • Nondairy liquid and powered coffee creamers

How to Cure Lactose Intolerance

Unfortunately, there is no cure for lactose intolerance but most lactose intolerant people are able to eliminate their symptoms by changing their diet. Try to decrease or completely remove milk products from your diet. However, individuals who are not consuming milk or dairy products may become deficient in calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, and protein. So, it is advisable to take calcium supplements or consume foods that are high in calcium. Also, you can take supplements of lactase enzyme before consuming milk and dairy products.