Can a person develop lactose intolerance?


An individual can develop lactose intolerance at any age. In rare cases, it can be present from birth, but symptoms usually appear as a person ages, presenting in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood.

Lactose intolerance refers to difficulty digesting foods that contain lactose, such as dairy products. This can lead to symptoms such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea. There are four different forms of lactose intolerance, all of which have different causes. Some types occur more frequently than others, and their average age of onset also varies.

In this article, we discuss the different types of lactose intolerance and when they can occur.

Lactose intolerance is the term for food intolerance to lactose, a sugar naturally found in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt. This intolerance is usually due to lactose malabsorptionwhich is the inability to properly digest or absorb lactose.

Insufficient production of an enzyme known as lactase, which breaks down lactose, leads to this malabsorption. Undigested lactose passes into the colon, where bacteria break it down, creating the liquid and gas that is responsible for the digestive symptoms people experience.

The data suggest that although the prevalence of lactose intolerance varies by region, approximately two-thirds of the world’s population suffers from lactose malabsorption. However, not everyone with lactose malabsorption will develop symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance can develop at any age. However, it tends to be rare in children under 5 years old. In most cases, the onset of symptoms occurs gradually due to declining levels of lactase as a person ages. As lactase production decreases, a person may begin to notice worsening symptoms. Many cases of lactose intolerance first develop when a person is between the ages of 20 and 40.

There are four main types lactose intolerance which can occur at different ages. Some forms can develop due to a person’s genes, but not all causes are genetic.

Primary lactase deficiency

Also known as lactase non-persistence, it is the The most common type of lactose intolerance. This occurs due to the decreased activity or expression of the LCT embarrassed which causes a gradual decrease in lactase. The decrease in lactase usually occurs after the age of 2 years.

Secondary lactase deficiency

This cause of lactose intolerance does not occur due to genetics. Instead, it results from disease or injury that affects the small intestine and lactase production. It can develop at any age.

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, the most common cause of secondary lactase deficiency in infants and children is an infection of the intestinal tract that damages the mucous membrane. Other possible causes include trauma to the small intestine, health conditions such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, or medical procedures, such as surgery, radiation therapy, or certain medications.

Congenital lactase deficiency

People with this genetic form of lactose intolerance are born without the ability to produce lactase. This condition is very rare and can cause serious symptoms, such as growth retardation and watery diarrhea.

Developmental lactase deficiency

This type of lactose intolerance can occur in infants born prematurely, usually before 34 weeks of gestation. Usually it only lasts a short time. Symptoms usually go away as the intestinal lining further grows and matures.

Lactose intolerance results from a lack of lactase. Without adequate levels of this enzyme, the body cannot digest foods and beverages that contain lactose. The causes of lactase deficiency to understand:

  • an inherited gene causing a decrease in lactase or an inability to produce it
  • damage to the small intestine that affects lactase production
  • premature birth

Although anyone can develop lactose intolerance, it seems to be more common in certain populations. Risk factors May include:

  • Family history: Since primary lactase deficiency is due to an inherited gene, family history plays a role.
  • Race: According to the American College of Gastroenterology, approximately 85% of African American adults in the United States may have lactose intolerance. However, it is possible to have lactase malabsorption and not show symptoms of lactose intolerance.
  • Ethnic origin: Lactose intolerance also seems to be more common in people of Hispanic, Latino, Asian or Native American origin.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance can vary in severity from person to person. Additionally, the amount of lactose a person consumes can influence symptoms. Some common symptoms include:

  • excess gas
  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps or pain
  • sudden urge to have a bowel movement

Doctors usually diagnose lactose intolerance based on a physical exam, during which they will check for abdominal tenderness, pain, and bloating. They will also consider the person’s symptoms and medical history and the results of a few diagnostic tests. Tests to diagnose lactose intolerance may include:

  • Food elimination: This involves eliminating all lactose-containing foods and beverages for a set period of time to see if the symptoms go away.
  • Hydrogen breath test: A healthcare professional will take breath samples from the person after they have consumed foods or drinks that contain lactose. Lactose intolerant people will exhale with higher hydrogen levels. When the hydrogen value exceeds a certain value, doctors can confirm a diagnosis of lactose intolerance.
  • Milk tolerance test: This test involves measuring blood sugar before and after drinking 500 milliliters of milk. If blood sugar does not rise, it suggests that a person is not digesting lactose, indicating lactose intolerance.

The main way to manage lactose intolerance is to make dietary changes. In the past, doctors recommended avoiding all products containing lactose. However, research suggests that most people can tolerate up to 12–15 grams of lactose per day without experiencing significant symptoms. Many lactose-free products, such as plant milks, are available to help people limit their intake.

Other treatment options May include treat the underlying condition causing the intolerance, if any, or supplement with lactase tabletswhich contain lactase and help break down lactose.

Other digestive and intestinal conditions can cause symptoms similar to those of lactose intolerance. When symptoms of lactose intolerance develop, doctors can first rule out other conditions, such as:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): IBS refers to changes in bowel function that can cause symptoms, such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, and constipation, without any visible signs of bowel damage.
  • Celiac disease : This autoimmune disease occurs in some people when their immune system overreacts to eating foods containing gluten. Symptoms can include diarrhea, nausea and fatigue.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): IBD usually refers to Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. These conditions can cause long-term intestinal inflammation. Either condition can lead to symptoms, including stomach pain, diarrhea, and nausea.

Lactose intolerance can develop at any age. It occurs due to low levels of the enzyme lactase, which leads to difficulty digesting lactose, a common sugar in dairy products.

Lactose intolerance can be present from birth, but most cases develop gradually, usually presenting in adulthood. The most common management strategy is to limit or avoid foods and beverages that contain lactose.


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