About the Lactose Intolerance Test
Lactose intolerance means your small intestine struggles to break down milk sugar, lactose. This condition leads to symptoms like stomach pain, diarrhea, and flatulence. While lactose intolerance is harmless, it can cause significant discomfort for those affected. People often mix up lactose intolerance with cow’s milk allergy (also known as milk protein allergy or milk allergy). Both conditions cause similar issues, but doctors treat them differently. At GetTested, we use a simple breathing test to determine if you suffer from lactose intolerance through our Lactose Intolerance test.
Causes of lactose intolerance
If you’re lactose intolerant, you’re hypersensitive to lactose, the carbohydrate in milk and other dairy products. This intolerance arises from a deficiency in the lactase enzyme that breaks down lactose in the small intestine. This deficiency makes it challenging for your body to absorb lactose’s nutrients. As a result, undigested lactose stays in the small intestine. Intestinal bacteria then digest this undigested lactose, producing gases that can cause stomach cramps and diarrhea. To alleviate these issues, you need to limit or avoid lactose-containing foods and drinks. When you reduce or eliminate lactose from your diet, the symptoms often fade away.
Children under five rarely show signs of lactose intolerance. More often, stomach issues in children arise from cow’s milk allergy, among other causes. Proper diagnosis is crucial to ensure you avoid the right foods and alleviate symptoms. The following section discusses various causes of lactose intolerance.
Primary lactose intolerance
Primary lactose intolerance is the most prevalent form. It’s hereditary and common in Asia, Africa, and southern Europe. The condition stems from reduced lactase enzyme production, which digests milk sugar or lactose. Lactase production typically drops in those genetically predisposed during late childhood to early adulthood. Those affected often struggle with milk-rich foods. On the other hand, foods that don’t contain that much milk sugar often work well. Examples of such foods are hard cheese, yoghurt, butter and sandwich margarines that contain butterfat.
Secondary lactose intolerance
Secondary lactose intolerance, often termed temporary lactose intolerance, arises when an untreated intestinal disease or parasitic infection damages the small intestinal mucosa. For instance, in gluten intolerance, gluten triggers inflammation which damages the lining of the small intestine. This damage prevents nutrients from being absorbed. Typically, once you treat the underlying cause and heal the intestinal damage, secondary lactose intolerance subsides.
Congenital lactose intolerance
Congenital lactose intolerance is very uncommon and means that the body can not produce lactase at all. Unlike primary and secondary (temporary) lactose intolerance, congenital lactose intolerance is a disease. It is genetically transmitted and is noticed already after birth. The baby gets watery diarrhea as soon as it starts eating breast milk or breast milk substitute. In order for the baby to avoid the problems, lactose-free breast milk replacement is required. People with congenital lactose intolerance usually need to eat food with as little milk sugar as possible throughout life.
Lactose intolerance and cow’s milk allergy
Many people confuse lactose intolerance with cow’s milk allergy (also called milk protein allergy or milk allergy) even though they are two completely different things. If you have an allergy to milk protein, you don’t tolerate the proteins in the milk. Unlike lactose intolerance where it is the milk sugar, or lactose, which causes problems. Milk protein allergy is due to the body’s immune system reacting to one or more proteins found in milk. The immune system then produces special antibodies, so-called Immunoglobulin (IgE), which then activate immune cells in the body that cause inflammation. The symptoms are vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea and skin reactions in the form of eczema and hives and in some cases asthma or anaphylactic reactions. For sensitive milk allergy sufferers, very small amounts are sometimes required to get a reaction. People with milk protein allergies are completely advised against eating and drinking dairy products. Dairy and goat milk products must also be excluded. Also dairy products that are lactose-free and lactose-reduced.
As the symptoms of lactose intolerance and cow’s milk allergy are similar, it is therefore very important to seek help and take blood samples to establish the correct diagnosis. GetTested offers both allergy tests and lactose intolerance tests.
Difference in measuring lactose intolerance via breath tests and DNA tests
When you’re lactose intolerant, you exhale more hydrogen after consuming the test solution. This happens because you lack sufficient lactase enzyme to break down the lactose. As a result, the undigested lactose ferments and produces gases in the colon.
On the other hand, a DNA test for lactose intolerance only shows if you have hereditary lactose intolerance but not if you actually suffer from it.
How does the Lactose Intolerance Test work?
The test is a breath test that measures the concentration of hydrogen and methane gas after drinking a lactose solution provided with the test kit. The sample is collected on five occasions over three hours. It is best if you take the sample on an empty stomach and avoid eating and drinking during the test period. Your samples will be sent to our lab for analysis and you will get your test result digitally, after the lab has analysed your samples.