Christie Clinic - Medicine for Your Life

Our website is currently having technical difficulties. To view the site, please click here

Health Encyclopedia

Health Encyclopedia

An invaluable resource of health information.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose (a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products).

  • Alternative Names

    Lactase deficiency; Milk intolerance; Disaccharidase deficiency; Dairy product intolerance

  • Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Lactose intolerance happens when the small intestine does not make enough of the enzyme lactase. Babies' bodies make this enzyme so they can digest milk, including breast milk. Before humans became dairy farmers, most people did not continue to drink milk, so their bodies did not make lactase after early childhood.

    Lactose intolerance is more common in Asian, African, African-American, Native American, and Mediterranean populations than it is among northern and western Europeans.

    Lactose intolerance can begin at different times in life. In Caucasians, it usually starts to affect children older than age 5. In African-Americans, lactose intolerance often occurs as early as age 2.

    Lactose intolerance is very common in adults and is not dangerous. Approximately 30 million American adults have some amount of lactose intolerance by age 20.

    Lactose intolerance is sometimes seen in premature babies. Children who were born at full term generally do not show signs of lactose intolerance until they are at least 3 years old.

    Not having enough lactase (lactase deficiency) may also occur as a result of intestinal diseases such as celiac sprue and gastroenteritis, or after bowel surgery. Temporary lactase deficiency can result from viral and bacterial infections, especially in children, when the cells lining the intestine are injured.

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms often occur after you eat or drink milk products, and are often relieved by not eating or drinking milk products. Large doses of milk products may cause worse symptoms.

  • Signs and tests
  • Treatment

    Removing milk products from the diet usually improves the symptoms. However, not having milk in the diet can lead to a shortage of calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, and protein. Add other sources of calcium to the diet if you remove milk products.

    Most people with low lactase levels can tolerate 2 - 4 ounces of milk at one time (up to one-half cup). Larger (8 oz.) servings may cause problems for people with some amount of milk intolerance.

    These milk products may be easier to digest:

    • Buttermilk and cheeses (they have less lactose than milk)
    • Fermented milk products, such as yogurt
    • Goat's milk (but drink it with meals, and make sure it is supplemented with essential amino acids and vitamins if you give it to children)
    • Ice cream, milkshakes, and aged or hard cheeses
    • Lactose-free milk and milk products
    • Lactase-treated cow's milk for older children and adults
    • Soy formulas for infants younger than 2 years
    • Soy or rice milk for toddlers

    You can add lactase enzymes to regular milk or take them in capsule or chewable tablet form.

    You may need to find new ways to get calcium into your diet (you need 1,200 - 1,500 mg of calcium each day):

    • Take calcium supplements
    • Eat foods that have more calcium (leafy greens, oysters, sardines, canned salmon, shrimp, and broccoli)
    • Drink orange juice that contains added calcium

    Read food labels. Lactose is also found in some non-milk products -- including some beers.

  • Expectations (prognosis)

    Symptoms usually go away when milk products are removed from the diet.

  • Complications

    Weight loss and malnutrition are possible complications.

  • Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if:

    • You or your child has symptoms of lactose intolerance and you need information on food substitutes.
    • Your symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment, or you develop new symptoms.
  • Prevention

    There is no known way to prevent lactose intolerance.

    If you have the condition, avoiding or restricting the amount of milk products in your diet can reduce or prevent symptoms.

  • References

    Information from your family doctor. Lactose intolerance: what you should know. Am Fam Physician. 2006;74:1927-1928.

    Hogenauer C, Hammer HF. Maldigestion and Malabsorption. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Sleisenger MH, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2006: chap98.

Review Date: 8/22/2008

Reviewed By: Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2014 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com
Christie Clinic at the Family Medical Center in Paris
727 East Court Street Paris, IL 61944 Dermatology: 366-1248; Vein and Vascular: 366-2670
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic on University Photo Christie Clinic on University
101 West University Avenue Champaign, IL 61820 Main Phone: (217) 366-1200
Billing Services: (217) 366-1382
Toll Free: (888) 391-0412
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic on Windsor/Convenient Care Photo Christie Clinic on Windsor/Convenient Care
1801 West Windsor Road Champaign, IL 61822 (217) 366-8000
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic at Presence Covenant Photo Christie Clinic at Presence Covenant
1400 West Park Street Urbana, IL 61801 (217) 366-1200
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Rantoul Photo Christie Clinic in Rantoul
209 West Borman Drive Rantoul, IL 61866 (217) 892-9671
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Mahomet/Convenient Care Photo Christie Clinic in Mahomet/Convenient Care
1001 Commercial Drive Mahomet, IL 61853 Main Number: (217) 586-6600 Convenient Care: (217)366-8130
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Tuscola Photo Christie Clinic in Tuscola
300 North Main Street Tuscola, IL 61953 (217) 253-9258
Christie Clinic CU Sleep Photo CU Sleep
1207 South Mattis Avenue Champaign, IL 61821 (217) 355-1684
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic Cancer Center Photo Christie Clinic Cancer Center
109 West University Avenue Champaign, IL 61820 (217) 366-5180
Christie Clinic Convenient Care in County Market (Kirby & Duncan) Photo Convenient Care in County Market (Kirby & Duncan)
2901 West Kirby Avenue Champaign, IL 61821 (217) 366-8130
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Urbana/Convenient Care Photo Christie Clinic in Urbana/Convenient Care
1710 East Windsor Road Urbana, IL 61802 (217) 344-9440
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Danville on Logan Photo Christie Clinic in Danville on Logan
800 North Logan Avenue Danville, IL 61832 (217) 431-8930
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic on Fox Drive Photo Christie Clinic on Fox Drive
2110 Fox Drive, Suite B Champaign, IL 61820
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Monticello at Kirby Medical Group Specialty Clinic Photo Christie Clinic in Monticello at Kirby Medical Group Specialty Clinic
1109 B North State Street Monticello, IL 61856 (217) 366-1304
Gibson Area Hospital
1120 N Melvin Gibson City, IL 60936 (217) 784-2240
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Mattoon Photo Christie Clinic in Mattoon
105 B Professional Plaza Mattoon, IL 61938 (217) 345-3000
Christie Clinic Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System Photo Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System
1000 Health Center Drive Mattoon, IL 61938 (217) 258-2588
Christie Clinic The Champaign SurgiCenter Photo The Champaign SurgiCenter
1702 S. Mattis Avenue Champaign, IL 61821 (217) 326-2030
Christie Clinic The Carle Foundation Hospital Photo The Carle Foundation Hospital
611 West Park Street Urbana, IL 61801 (217) 383-3311
Iroquois Memorial Hospital
200 E. Fairman Ave. Watseka, IL 60970 (815) 432-5841
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Savoy Photo Christie Clinic in Savoy
501 North Dunlap Avenue Savoy, IL 61874 Transformations: (217) 366-7460 Internal Medicine: (217) 366-5434 Ophthalmology: (217) 366-1250
Christie Clinic on West Park Street
1405 West Park Street Urbana, IL 61801 217-366-1237
Christie Clinic in Monticello
107 West Main Street Monticello, IL 61856 217.762.3352
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Decatur Photo Christie Clinic in Decatur
100 South Water Street Suite 103 Decatur, IL 62523 217-362-0661- telephone
Christie Clinic Christie Clinic in Danville on Vermilion/Convenient Care Photo Christie Clinic in Danville on Vermilion/Convenient Care
3545 North Vermilion Street Danville, IL 61832 (217) 442-8611