Lactose intolerance can cause uncomfortable symptoms. Different medications and other strategies may help to ease these symptoms. However, limiting or avoiding lactose is the only effective way to manage the condition.
Lactose intolerance is when the body cannot properly break down a sugar called lactose. As the body cannot digest lactose, a person may experience pain and digestive symptoms.
Making changes to the diet is the most effective way to manage the symptoms and avoid discomfort. However, if a person with lactose intolerance does consume food or drink containing lactose and develops symptoms, over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help.
This article suggests strategies to help manage pain and discomfort from lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance results from lactose malabsorption, which is when someone cannot digest and absorb lactose in food and drinks. Evidence suggests that roughly
When people with lactose malabsorption ingest foods or beverages containing lactose, they may develop certain abdominal symptoms, such as pain, bloating, and diarrhea.
Typically, people with lactose intolerance cannot produce sufficient levels of lactase to digest lactose. When this happens, the lactose passes into the colon, where bacteria ferment it, creating fluids and gas.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance often start about 30–120 minutes after consuming foods that contain lactose and may include:
Symptoms of lactose intolerance may interfere with a person’s daily activities, causing discomfort, inconvenience, or pain. Speaking with a doctor about how to manage the symptoms and considering the following options might help.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines may help ease the discomfort of lactose intolerance. However, it is important to stop consuming lactose to prevent the symptoms from persisting.
Pain relievers such as acetaminophen may relieve abdominal pain and discomfort. The
If someone has symptoms of gas and bloating, using medications that contain simethicone may help. Simethicone
Lactose is in all foods and drinks that contain milk and milk products. Lactose is or may be present in the following foods and beverages:
- processed foods, such as breakfast cereals, soups, margarine, snack foods, and instant potatoes
- baked goods, such as cakes, biscuits, pastries, and cookies
- sauces, dips, and salad dressings
- nondairy coffee creamers and whipped toppings
- processed meats, such as hot dogs, bacon, luncheon meats, and sausages
People should check the labels and look for the following words which indicate that lactose is present:
- milk by-products
- nonfat dry milk powder
- dry milk solids
Yogurt and hard cheeses contain less lactose, so some people may be able to tolerate eating them. Research suggests that many people can consume
People can purchase lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk and milk products as an alternative to regular dairy products. They may also wish to try substitutes for dairy milk, such as soy, almond, or oat milk.
Using lactase products may help some people to manage their symptoms. However, it is advisable to consult a doctor before taking lactase products.
Probiotics may benefit people with lactose intolerance, according to some research. However, current evidence is inconclusive, and scientists need to do more studies before doctors routinely recommend probiotic supplements.
People can purchase probiotic supplements or ask a dietitian for advice. Additionally, probiotic foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso, contain probiotic bacteria that may help support gut health.
If someone has persistent pain, discomfort, or regular bouts of diarrhea, they should contact a doctor. Chronic diarrhea may lead to the
People should look for alternative sources of calcium,
Additionally, a dietitian or health professional can help someone plan their diet and explore alternatives to foods and drinks that contain lactose.
Avoiding or limiting foods and drinks containing lactose is the most effective way to manage symptoms of lactose intolerance. However, the amount of lactose someone with lactose intolerance can consume varies from person to person, so people need to experiment with food to determine what they can tolerate.
Lactase supplements, lactose-free products, and probiotics may help manage symptoms. However, if someone is in pain, they may need to take OTC medications for pain relief, gas, diarrhea, or bloating.
People should consult a doctor if they have severe or chronic symptoms and talk with a dietitian to help them plan their diet.