Lactose Intolerance Treatment Overview
First steps to consider
- You can usually treat lactose intolerance at home.
- Eating lactose-free dairy products or taking lactase pills (Lactaid) when having dairy products can prevent symptoms.
- Make sure you choose foods with the key nutrients that are found in dairy products like calcium and vitamin D.
When you may need a provider
- You suddenly notice a problem with dairy foods.
- Your lactose intolerance is related to other illnesses like Crohn’s.
Go to the ER or call 911 if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Severe vomiting or bloody diarrhea
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When you may need a healthcare provider
It’s important to see a healthcare provider if you suddenly have lactose intolerance or if you have other underlying digestive tract conditions (like Crohn’s disease or a history of surgery on your intestines).
Lactose intolerance symptoms can be confused with symptoms of other digestive tract conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, or bacterial overgrowth. If reducing lactose in your diet hasn’t improved your symptoms within 2 weeks, see a doctor to make sure there isn’t something else causing your symptoms.
Healthcare providers can often diagnose lactose intolerance just by talking to you about your symptoms and when they occur. But there are also tests for it if your provider isn’t certain of your diagnosis.
- Hydrogen breath test: You drink a lactose-containing solution, then breathe into a machine, which calculates the amount of hydrogen in your breath. High levels of hydrogen mean that you’re not digesting the lactose and you have lactose intolerance.
- Lactose tolerance test: You drink a lactose-containing solution and get a blood test to measure how much glucose is in your bloodstream. If your glucose level doesn’t rise above a certain level, it may mean that you have lactose intolerance.
- Endoscopy: You may get an endoscopy if your doctor is looking at various causes for your symptoms. A gastroenterologist (digestive disease specialist) uses a thin scope to take a sample (biopsy) of your tissue to send to the laboratory. The tissue is tested for enzyme levels of lactase and markers of other illnesses that the doctor is checking for.
What to expect from your visit
If you have lactose intolerance, your provider will discuss how to avoid lactose and make sure that you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D from other sources. If they find that you have a different digestive issue, they’ll work with you to create a treatment plan.
Types of providers
- A primary care provider can treat lactose intolerance.
- A gastroenterologist is a digestive disease specialist who can do additional testing to confirm lactose intolerance and treat other conditions.
Home treatments for lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance can be treated at home by not having dairy foods that contain lactose. These include milk, some cheeses, pudding, whipped cream, ice cream, and other dairy products.
Often people with lactose intolerance can eat yogurt and hard cheeses. And some people can tolerate small amounts of dairy (it may take some trial and error to find your tolerance level).
Another option is to choose lactose-free dairy products, where the lactase enzyme is already added to the food. You can also take a lactase enzyme supplement with the first bite of dairy foods.
- Lactase supplement (Lactaid)
Tips for treating lactose intolerance
- Figure out how much lactose you can have without getting symptoms.
- If you can tolerate some dairy, try switching from whole milk to skim milk, eating small amounts of dairy at a time, or eating it as part of a meal (with non-lactose foods).
- Look for lactose-free dairy products. They are available in everything from milk to ice cream.
- Make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Good sources of calcium are dark green, leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, and kale), certain nuts (almonds), beans (white beans), fish (sardines, salmon), and calcium-fortified orange juice. Vitamin D is often found in dairy foods. Your body makes it when you spend time in the sun, or you can take a vitamin D supplement.