Lactose Intolerance Buffalo NY

Lactose Intolerance is the inability to digest significant amounts of lactose, which is the predominant sugar of milk. Close to 50 million American adults are lactose intolerant. Certain ethnic and racial populations are more widely affected than others. As many as 75 percent of all African American, Jewish, Native American, and Mexican American adults, and 90 percent of Asian-American adults are lactose intolerant. The condition is least common among people of northern European descent.

What Causes Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose intolerance results from a shortage of the enzyme lactase, which is normally produced by the cells that line the small intestine. Lactase breaks down milk sugar into simpler forms that can then be absorbed into the blood stream. When there is not enough lactase to digest the amount of lactose consumed, the results, although not usually dangerous, may be very distressing.

Common symptoms include nausea, cramps, bloating, gas, and diarrhea, which begin about 30 minutes to two hours after eating or drinking foods containing lactose. Many people who have never been diagnosed as lactose intolerant or "lactase deficient" may notice that milk and other dairy products cause problems that don't occur when eating other foods. The severity of syrnptoms varies depending on the amount of lactose each individual can tolerate.

Some causes of lactose intolerance are well known. For instance, certain digestive diseases and injuries to the small intestine can reduce the amount of enzymes produced. In rare cases, children are born without the ability to produce lactase. For most people, though, lactase deficiency is a condition that develops naturally, over time. After about the age of two years, the body begins to produce less lactase. The reasons for this are unclear and still under study. However, syrnptoms may occur years after childhood.

What Diagnostic Tests are Used to Detect Lactose Intolerance?
The most common tests used to measure the absorption of lactose in the digestive system are the lactose intolerance test, the hydrogen breath test, and the stool acidity test. A doctor can tell you where to go for these tests, which are performed on an outpatient basis at a hospital or clinic. A clinical response to lactose restriction may also be sufficient, at times, to make the diagnosis.

The lactose tolerance test can be given to older children as well as adults. Before the test, patients fast (do not eat), and blood is drawn to measure the fasting blood glucose (blood sugar) level. Patients then drink a large amount of a liquid that contains 50 grams of lactose. Blood samples are taken over a two-hour period to determine the glucose level, which tells how well the body is able to digest lactose. When the lactose reaches the digestive system, the lactase enzyme breaks the lactose down into glucose and galactose. The liver then changes the galactose into glucose. If this process occurs normally, the glucose enters the bloodstream and raises the fasting blood glucose level. If lactose is incompletely absorbed, the blood glucose level does not rise, and a diagnosis of lactose intolerance is confirmed.

The hydrogen breath test measures the amount of hydrogen in the breath. Normally, no hydrogen is detectable in the breath. However, undigested lactose leads to the formation of various gases including hydrogen, by bacteria in the colon. The hydrogen is absorbed from the intestines, carried through the bloodstream to the lungs, and exhaled. In the test, the patient drinks a lactose-loaded beverage, and the breath is analyzed at regular intervals. Hydrogen in the breath means improper digestion of lactose. Certain foods, medications, and smoking can afFect the test's accuracy and may need to be avoided before the test.

The lactose tolerance and hydrogen breath tests are not given to infants and young children who are suspected of having lactose intolerance. Giving these patients a lactose load may be dangerous because they are more prone to the dehydration that can result from the diarrhea caused by the lactose. If a baby or young child is experiencing symptoms of lactose intolerance, many pediatricians simply recommend changing from cow's milk to soy formula and waiting for a decrease in syrnptoms.

If necessary, a stool acidity test, which measures the amount of acid in the stool and presents no risk to young children, may be given. Undigested lactose fermented by colon bacteria creates lactic acid and other short-chain fatty acids that can be detected in a stool sample. In addition, glucose may be present in the sample as a result of unabsorbable lactose in the colon.

What Treatments are Available to Control Symptoms?
Fortunately, lactose intolerance is relatively easy to treat. No known way exists to increase the amount of lactase ensyme the body can make, but symptoms can be controlled through diet.