Lactose intolerance is a common complaint among children and adults. This digestive disorder makes it hard for the body to process lactose, which is found in milk and dairy products. Since the body cannot digest lactose properly, it starts to ferment and release gases.
Lactose intolerance may first appear in childhood but becomes more common with age. With age, the ability to make the enzyme that breaks down lactose goes down. The cause of the disorder may be a minor infection in the digestive system, and everything returns to normal in under a month. When lactose intolerance develops in later years, it is likely permanent, but it can go away on its own. Most commonly, the disorder develops in people in their 20s or 30s but can come on at any age.
Normally, the negative reaction to dairy product consumption comes with a delay. The exact time between eating and experiencing a reaction differs from person to person and is also affected by the particular product type and the amount consumed. Dairy products vary in the amount of lactose they contain. In general, people can expect to experience some reaction between half an hour and two hours after they eat or drink a trigger substance. Lactose intolerance may be easier to diagnose because a doctor can trace the reaction to these specific items.
Body gas and intestinal sounds are among the most noticeable side effects of lactose intolerance. These side effects can be especially embarrassing because the disorder has no external signs, so others do not realize the affected person has a digestive problem.
Diarrhea is another of the unpleasant symptoms people with lactose intolerance may experience. Diarrhea can be especially serious for people living in a hot climate, who will need to keep their bodies hydrated by replenishing the liquids lost in the frequent visits to the bathroom. If diarrhea persists, they need to consult a doctor.
Some people with lactose intolerance experience nausea after they consume milk or dairy products. The sensation might be very slight, or it could cause them to vomit. Vomiting is one way a healthy body rids itself of substances it cannot handle, so it is not in itself negative, but it should be watched. If vomiting occurs too frequently, it can cause dehydration. Regular severe vomiting might also suggest a more serious health issue that requires a doctor's attention.
Lactose intolerance is one of many causes of stomach pain. If the pain usually occurs after eating some type of dairy food, it suggests a connection. However, it is best for people with stomach pain to consult their doctor to determine the cause.
People with lactose intolerance may have a bloated stomach even though they do not overeat. In addition to a swollen abdomen, they may experience a sensation of fullness. Since bloating is also a bowel disease symptom, consultation with a doctor is highly recommended.
Bloated abdomens and nausea are also symptoms of other GI tract illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome. Another common mistake is to confuse lactose intolerance with a milk protein intolerance. Although the symptoms are similar, the treatments are not the same, so it is essential to get a correct diagnosis.
Someone with a food allergy experiences an allergic reaction if they eat even the slightest amount of the trigger food. Someone with lactose intolerance can eat or drink a certain amount of milk products without ill effects. The exact quantity of milk-sourced foods a person can eat varies and becomes clear with experience. Tolerance levels also change with age.
Many people with lactose intolerance may be able to manage short-term symptoms by drastically reducing dairy products in their diet. Symptoms over the long term can be more serious and harder to link specifically with this digestive issue. Also, dairy products provide the body with significant amounts of calcium and other nutrients, but people with lactose intolerance can likely get these from other food sources.
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