It’s the end of the evening, and you’ve just enjoyed a nice dinner. You decide to finish it off with a big bowl of your favorite ice cream, and you savor every bite. But soon after you’ve finished, you’re clenching your gut in pain and dashing to the bathroom. Sound familiar? If you’ve experienced this before, you may be lactose intolerant.
Perhaps this is your first encounter with lactose malabsorption. Wondering why you’ve never had such an experience until recently and how could you become lactose intolerant so suddenly? It turns out that most people stop producing enough of the enzyme called lactase — which helps digest lactose — by the time they become adults. The onset of this condition usually occurs later in life and wreaks havoc on your digestive system.
If you’re seeking answers about how long symptoms of lactose intolerance last, we’re here to provide some assurance that they will end soon. Here’s some information about lactose intolerance and what to expect if you’re new to it.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
The most basic definition of lactose intolerance is a person’s inability to digest and absorb lactose, which is the sugar content of dairy products. This condition affects nearly one in three adults. When your digestive system is working correctly, lactase is made by the small intestines to break down the lactose found in milk. But if you are intolerant, your body doesn’t produce enough of the enzyme to break it down. So, the undigested lactose is instead passed to the large intestine, which is when all the symptoms begin.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
The severity of lactose intolerance symptoms can range from mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful. Each of these symptoms is explained below.
When undigested lactose makes it to the colon, bacteria are left to break it down. The waste products from this process include methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen gases.
The excess gas created from bacteria breaking down lactose in the colon causes uncomfortable swelling of the abdomen and is heightened by water retention in the intestines.
The remaining lactose causes an influx of water to the colon and leads to increased water retention, which is why diarrhea is another symptom of lactose intolerance.
As all of these processes occur, lactose intolerance stomach pain is one of the first and most common symptoms a person will experience as gases begin pushing up against intestinal walls.
As gases build up in the colon and intestines as a byproduct of fermentation, a person’s stomach may produce rumbling noises as the gas prepares to exit the body.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are less common symptoms of lactose intolerance. It has yet to be determined why they occur, but these are nonetheless widely documented symptoms.
How Long Do Symptoms of Intolerance Last?
The symptoms of lactose intolerance can kick in anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours after you’ve consumed dairy. When you have gas, cramping, diarrhea, and bloating, hours may feel like an eternity. The good news is that the symptoms will stop once the dairy leaves your system. If you’re wondering how to stop lactose intolerance pain immediately, the easiest way is to eliminate it from your diet as soon as possible.
The bad news is that dairy can take up to 48 hours to leave your system. However, this will depend on your body’s composition, the amount of lactose you’ve eaten, and your metabolism.
How Long Does Lactose Intolerance Last?
Unfortunately, an individual with lactose intolerance will always be lactose intolerant. As of today, researchers aren’t sure how to artificially signal the body to create more lactase to break down lactose. If you’re not ready to completely give up dairy quite yet, over-the-counter lactase tablets are available in drug stores without a prescription. These tablets mimic naturally occurring lactase to encourage digestion and can be taken before eating dairy to minimize the gas, diarrhea, bloating, nausea, etc. Don’t rely on them, though — they aren’t effective for everyone.
How to Manage Your Symptoms
Managing your symptoms usually means limiting dairy in your diet as much as possible. Lucky for you, dairy substitutes have never been as widely available as they are today — and they’re pretty convincing, too. Dairy exists in butter, milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream, and we have some suggestions for swapping out each one for healthier, more gut-friendly alternatives.
- Milk: Soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, coconut milk
- Butter: Coconut oil, olive oil, vegetable oil
- Cheese: Cashew cheese, tahini
- Yogurt: Almond milk yogurt, coconut-based yogurt
Ice cream: Avocado ice cream, banana puree, mixed berry puree, coconut ice cream, almond ice cream, cashew ice cream, soy ice cream
When to See a Doctor
If you have regular gastrointestinal distress after consuming dairy products, make an appointment with your doctor. They can rule out other causes and give you a definitive diagnosis. You won’t likely be referred to a gastroenterologist unless your symptoms persist after cutting dairy out of your diet. Doctors use the following tests to determine lactose intolerance.
- Hydrogen breath test: A doctor will instruct you to drink lactose and then administer a breath test to measure its hydrogen content. If the hydrogen content is high, this indicates an intolerance, as hydrogen is a byproduct of undigested lactose.
- Stool acidity test: Another option is to measure undigested lactose, or lactic acid content, in the stool, but this test is usually given to young children.
Lactose tolerance test: This test involves using a baseline blood sample taken after a period of fasting and a second blood sample taken after the consumption of lactose. The doctor will look for elevated blood glucose levels, which indicate lactose intolerance.
Turn to Immuno Labs for Fast and Accurate Health Information
You can also take the Immuno Labs Milk Subfraction test, which utilizes protein analysis to give you an in-depth look at how reactive you are to the five proteins found in milk. Our expedited lab results can give you answers in as little as 48 hours so you can start subtracting foods from your diet and living a healthier, happier life.