Diagnosis and Tests for Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a condition that is much more common than most people realize. These days, however, there is more attention being paid to the topic, which is definitely helpful for those that have to deal with this condition on a daily basis.

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

This condition describes a case where a person’s body is unable to properly digest lactose, which is a type of sugar commonly found in dairy products. This is due to a deficiency or shortage of a key enzyme called lactase, whose function is to break down lactose so that it is easier to absorb into the bloodstream.

When an individual consumes or drinks something that contains lactose, the common symptoms experienced include nausea, diarrhea, abdominal bloating and/or pain and flatulence. Because such symptoms are common with many other conditions, it is easy for a person to misdiagnose him/herself.

How to Diagnose Lactose Intolerance

Surprisingly, many individuals do not realize that they are lactose intolerant. However, there are a few ways that a person can diagnose him/herself in order to find out if they are, in fact, dealing with a lactase deficiency that is affecting the way certain foods are digested. While some of the tests used are not quite accurate, those listed below are much more likely to pinpoint the problem.

Tests for Lactose Intolerance

The Milk Test

Perhaps one of the easiest and fastest ways to diagnose lactose intolerance is by going straight to the source: milk. Also known as the lactose intolerance test, this method requires fasting overnight and then drinking a glass of milk in the morning. Consuming further food or drink should be avoided for the next 3-5 hours. If the symptoms begin to occur within 30 minutes to four hours after consumption, it is highly likely that the person is lactose intolerant. When doing this test, it is important to make sure that the milk being used is fat-free (this eliminates the possibility of the fat in the milk being the culprit in causing the symptoms). One key thing to remember when using this test to diagnose lactose intolerance is to assess how much milk is typically consumed on a daily basis. For example, if a person usually drinks a lot of milk daily, then the amount of milk consumed the morning of the test should be larger in order to trigger the symptoms. Of course if nothing out of the ordinary happens, then chances are there is no deficiency of lactase.

Hydrogen Breath Test

The hydrogen breath test is one of the most commonly used and most preferred when it comes to providing accurate results as to whether or not an individual is dealing with lactose intolerance. A person undergoing this type of test should not eat or engage in any type of strenuous exercise for 8 hours prior to their test time.

To perform the test, a person is required to breathe into a balloon-shaped container, followed by drinking a liquid that contains lactose. At set intervals of time, further samples of the person’s breath are collected, which allows for the hydrogen levels to be evaluated. High levels of hydrogen are a sign that the body has had difficulty digesting the lactose, which means there is a level of intolerance. However, if hardly any levels of hydrogen are detected on a person’s breath after the test, then this more than likely means they are not lactose intolerant.

Blood Test

Another type of test that can be used to diagnose a case of lactose intolerance involves drawing multiple blood samples and analyzing it for the presence of glucose. When lactose is digested and broken down properly in the human body, glucose is then released into the bloodstream. Drawing the blood samples allows doctors to see how much—if any—glucose is present after a person has consumed a liquid beverage containing lactose. Because the test does involve needles and taking blood, this method can cause discomfort to the patient, especially since several samples are required in order to get accurate results.

Stool Acidity Test

Parents of young children or infants can use the stool acidity test to determine whether or not their child is lactose intolerant. This test is much safer and carries less risk, compared to the other methods mentioned above. After drinking a beverage containing lactose, the child’s stool is then collected after a certain period of time. The stool sample is then tested to detect how acidic it is. A high acidity level means the lactose was not digested properly and the diagnosis for intolerance can then be made.

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