Symptoms of lactose intolerance in adults


Lactose is a sugar present in milk and milk products. When the body is unable to digest lactose from the dairy products, it results in lactose intolerance in adults.

Lactose intolerance is not a serious condition, but may cause severe distress and discomfort to individuals who are afflicted by it. Some adults with lactose intolerance may not show the signs and symptoms of lactose intolerance inspite of having the condition. Such individuals cannot be diagnosed as being afflicted with lactose intolerance.

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Symptoms of lactose intolerance

The symptoms and signs of lactose intolerance commence within a few hours of consuming dairy or dairy products and may range from mild to severe in strength.

Individuals may have different levels of lactose intolerance. In addition, each individual may consume different amounts of lactose through dairy products as per their diet. Hence, the signs of lactose intolerance vary from one affected adult to another.

Some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance in adults are as follows:

  •  Loose motions or diarrhea
  •  Stomach pain or pain, cramps in the abdomen
  •  Increased instances of passing gas or flatulence
  •  Bloating of the abdomen
  •  Increased instances of nausea
  •  Abdominal distention
  •  These are also the symptoms that are associated with any gastrointestinal problems and hence a visit to a doctor is essential for diagnosis.
  •  The lactose passes through the intestine to the colon. There are bacteria present in the colon that break down a major part of the lactose into glucose and galactose for their own use, and release hydrogen gas. This gas is used by other bacteria and the rest of it is either absorbed by the colon or passed through to the lungs. This hydrogen is released as gas through the anus as well as through the mouth.
  •  Some colon bacteria, may change the hydrogen gas to methane resulting in flatulence that contains methane gas or both methane and hydrogen gases
  •  The unused lactose in the colon mixes with water in the colon and results in loose stools.

Causes of lactose intolerance in adults

The causes and the risk factors of lactose intolerance in adults are mentioned below:

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  •  In normal adults, the lactose present in milk and milk products are broken down into glucose and galactose by an enzyme called lactase. This enzyme is present in the inner linings of the small intestine. The lactose thus broken down is absorbed by the body.
  •  In adults who have lactose intolerance, there is an absence or deficiency of the lactase enzyme thereby preventing the breakdown of lactose into glucose and galactose.
Causes of lactase deficiency
This is caused due to the following set of factors:
  •  Mutations of a gene that is responsible for the manufacture of lactase may result in congenital lactase deficiency or lactase that is absent or deficient from birth
  •  Diseases and conditions such as celiac sprue, may result in the destruction of the inner linings of the small intestine and lactase resulting in secondary form of lactase deficiency
  •  A gradual decrease in lactase production during the developmental stages causes developmental form of lactase deficiency. This decrease in lactase along with the aging of the body and the diversions in diet from dairy products may have genetic causes.
  •  Premature birth, races that include Asians, African Americans, American Indians and Hispanics, abdominal radiation exposure, etc may also increase the risk to develop lactose intolerance in adults.

Treatment of lactose intolerance in adults

There is no cure for lactose intolerance or lactase absence or deficiency. Avoidance of milk and milk products is the only way to prevent the symptoms of lactose intolerance in adults.

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