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Lactose intolerance is when your body can’t break down or digest lactose. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and milk products.
Lactose intolerance happens when your small intestine does not make enough of a digestive juice (enzyme) called lactase. Lactase is needed to break down the lactose in food so it can be absorbed by your body.
People who are lactose intolerant have unpleasant symptoms after eating or drinking milk or milk products. These symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, and gas.
Lactose intolerance is not the same thing as having a food allergy to milk.
Lactose intolerance is most common in Asian Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans.
Lactose intolerance can happen to children or adults. Here are some common causes of this condition:
Each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms often start about 30 minutes to 2 hours after you have food or drinks that have lactose.
Symptoms may include:
How severe your symptoms are will depend on how much lactose you have had. It will also depend on how much lactase your body makes.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance may look like other health problems. Always see your health care provider to be sure.
Your health care provider will talk to you about your past health and family history. He or she will give you a physical exam.
You may be asked not to have any milk or milk products for a short time to see if your symptoms get better.
You may also have some tests to check for lactose intolerance. These may include:
There is no treatment that can help your body make more lactase. But you can manage your symptoms by changing your diet.
In the past, people who were lactose intolerant were told to stop taking dairy products. Today, health experts suggest you try different dairy foods and see which ones cause fewer symptoms. That way you can still get enough calcium and other important nutrients.
Lactose intolerance symptoms can be unpleasant, but they won’t hurt you. So try to find dairy foods that don’t cause severe symptoms.
Here are some tips for managing lactose in your diet:
If you have trouble finding dairy products that don’t cause symptoms, talk to your health care provider. He or she can suggest other foods to be sure you get enough calcium. You may need to take calcium supplements.
Children with lactose intolerance should be seen by a health care provider. Children and teenagers need dairy foods. They are a major source of calcium for bone growth and health. They also have other nutrients that children need for growth.
Lactose intolerance can affect you every time you eat a snack or meal. So you need to be careful about the foods you eat every day.
It’s important to read food labels. Lactose is often added to some boxed, canned, frozen, and prepared foods such as:
Check food labels for words that may mean a food has lactose in it, such as:
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