Stomach bloating: Could you have an unknown underlying health condition? Warning signs

Milk allergy and lactose intolerance: What’s the difference?

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If you identify when you develop symptoms of bloating, including stomach pain and gas, it might point towards an underlying health condition, such as lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is a digestive condition whereby the body is unable to digest the sugar known as lactose – primarily found in dairy products. Don’t expect the symptoms of lactose intolerance to surface as soon as you consume a dairy product.

Instead, the NHS made clear that symptoms usually develop within a few hours after consuming dairy.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance might include:

  • Farting
  • Diarrhoea
  • A bloated stomach
  • Stomach cramps and pains
  • Stomach rumbling
  • Feeling sick.

The severity of symptoms tend to reflect the amount of dairy products consumed.

In addition, some people may be able to drink milky tea or coffee without suffering from any noticeable symptoms.

Meanwhile, another person who is more sensitive to lactose, might suffer from symptoms after a few sips of the milky hot beverage.

To help discern whether you do have lactose intolerance, it’ll help to avoid foods and drinks containing lactose for two weeks to see if your symptoms improve.

What causes lactose intolerance?

For people with lactose intolerance, the body doesn’t have an adequate supply of lactase, which is needed to digest lactose.

Lactase is supposed to break down lactose into two sugars – glucose and galactose – which can then be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Without an adequate supply of lactase, lactose stays in the digestive system, where it’s fermented by bacteria.

This leads to the production of gases, which cause the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance.

While the condition can develop at any age, many cases first develop in people aged 20 to 40.

Treatment involves the avoidance of lactose products, which is now easier to do with the surge of lactose-free products on supermarket shelves.

What triggers the condition to emerge?

Lactose intolerance developed in adulthood may be referred to as secondary lactase deficiency.

Possible causes include a long course of antibiotics, chemotherapy, or other health conditions.

For instance, lactase deficiency may develop due to:

  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Coeliac disease
  • Gastroenteritis.

Moreover, the body’s natural capability to produce lactase reduces as you get older.

Thus, even without an underlying health condition, you can still develop lactose intolerance in later life.

As the symptoms of lactose intolerance can be very similar to other health conditions, it’s always best to seek professional medical advice from your doctor.

Medical testing can help confirm the diagnosis by uncovering how much lactase your body is producing.

This could include a lactose tolerance test, where you’ll be given a lactose solution to drink, alongside a blood test, to see if it causes a spike in blood sugar.

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