Lactose intolerance: symptoms and treatments

By May 3, 2017abdominal pain
comedic animation of character saying "I hate you" to gasping milk bottle

Lactose intolerance means that your body cannot properly digest lactose, a natural sugar that’s found in milk and other dairy products.

Did you know that lactose intolerance affects about 75 percent of the entire world population?

When lactose travels through your colon and it’s not completely digested, it can prompt painful symptoms. Levels of lactose intolerance vary. Some people can have small amounts of milk and dairy, while others cannot consume any milk or dairy at all.

What are lactose intolerance symptoms?

Symptoms of lactose intolerance can vary from mild to serious, depending on how much lactase your body makes.

Lactase is the enzyme your body uses to properly process lactose.  

Symptoms of lactose intolerance typically start about a half hour to two hours after consuming milk or dairy products. Symptoms may include:

  • Bloating
  • Pain or cramps
  • Gurgling or other strange sounds in your belly
  • Gas
  • Loose stools or diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Lactose intolerance is more common in adults than it is in children. Native Americans, Asians, Africans and South Americans are more likely to suffer from it.  

One of the biggest problems for lactose-intolerant people is avoiding dairy foods while still finding ways to get enough calcium and maintain healthy bones.

What causes lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is hereditary and runs in families. People usually don’t develop symptoms until teenage or adult years. When that happens, most people are able to eat some level of milk or dairy without significant issues.

In some cases, your body stops producing lactase following an illness, like the flu, or as part of a long-term disease, like cystic fibrosis. When that happens, the effects can be either temporary or permanent.

How do you treat lactose intolerance?

Unfortunately, lactose intolerance has no cure. The best and easiest way to avoid the discomfort associated with lactose intolerance is to avoid milk and dairy products.

There are lactose-free, milk-like products available on store shelves, or you can opt for soy or almond milk as a substitute. You can also eat soy cheese and other soy products.  

There are also dietary supplements available that will help you digest lactose if your body can’t do it on its own. People who live with lactose intolerance have found ways to work around it.

If you have lactose intolerance and are concerned about getting enough calcium, there are several foods you can incorporate into your regular diet.

Nondairy foods that are high in calcium include:

  • Broccoli
  • Okra
  • Kale
  • Collards
  • turnip greens
  • Canned sardines
  • Tuna
  • salmon
  • Calcium-fortified juices and cereals
  • Calcium-fortified soy products, like as soy milk, tofu, and soybeans
  • Almonds


If you are exhibiting any symptoms of lactose intolerance and don’t know how to manage it, call your physician or stop by an Urgent Care Clinic today.