they suffer from lactose intolerance because they have the symptoms associated with the disorder, not knowing other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome can cause similar symptoms. A doctor can use tests to diagnose lactose intolerance but may first recommend eliminating cow’s milk from the diet to see if the symptoms go away.
The most common tests used to measure the absorption of lactose in the digestive system are the lactose tolerance, hydrogen breath, and stool acidity tests.
• The Lactose Tolerance Test. This test requires fasting (not eating) before the test and then drinking a liquid that contains lactose. Several blood samples are then taken over a 2-hour period to measure the person’s blood glucose (blood sugar) level. These measures indicate how well the body is able to digest lactose.
Normally, when lactose reaches the digestive system, the lactase enzyme breaks it down into glucose and galactose. The liver then changes the galactose into glucose, which enters the bloodstream and raises the person’s blood glucose level. If, however, lactose is incompletely broken down, the blood glucose level does not rise and a diagnosis of lactose intolerance is confirmed.
• The Hydrogen Breath Test. This test measures the amount of hydrogen in a person’s breath. Very little hydrogen is normally detectable. However, undigested lactose in the colon is fermented by bacteria and produces various gases, including hydrogen. The hydrogen is absorbed from the intestines, carried through the bloodstream to the lungs, and exhaled. In this test, the person drinks a lactose-loaded beverage and the breath is analyzed at regular intervals. Raised levels of hydrogen in the breath indicate improper digestion of lactose. Certain foods, medications, and cigarettes can affect the accuracy of the test and should be avoided before taking the test. People should check with their doctor to make sure they are not taking medications that may interfere with test results.