Lactose malabsorption

Richard J Grand, Robert K Montgomery
Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology 2008, 11 (1): 19-25
Lactose malabsorption is a syndrome producing constellation of symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, and sometimes nausea and/or vomiting. Primary causes of lactose malabsorption due to loss of intestinal lactase activity include genetic/racial lactase nonpersistence, congenital lactase deficiency, and developmental lactase deficiency. Secondary lactose malabsorption can be caused by any disorder that injures the small intestinal mucosa, such as viral gastroenteritis, celiac disease, allergic (eosinophilic) gastroenteritis, and radiation enteritis. The diagnosis depends on careful clinical evaluation and is customarily confirmed with a lactose breath hydrogen test. As the symptoms are nonspecific, many adults diagnosed with lactose malabsorption actually have irritable bowel syndrome. Treatment consists of a trial of eliminating lactose-containing dairy foods, with supplementation of alternative calcium and protein sources. Commercial enzyme products containing β-galactosidases can be prescribed to help patients digest dietary lactose. Long-term lactose restriction usually is not necessary and can lead to reduced bone mineral density.

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