Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose. Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products.

Lactose intolerance happens when the small intestine does not make enough of the enzyme lactase. Enzymes help the body absorb foods. Not having enough lactase is called lactase deficiency.

Lactase deficiency is more common in people with Aboriginal, Asian, African, Middle Eastern or Mediterranean ancestry. It is rare for Caucasians to develop it.

Many people with lactase deficiency can usually tolerate some lactose with minimal symptoms. Symptoms are often confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Flatulence
  • Diarrhoea

Symptoms usually go away when you remove milk products or other products containing lactose from the diet.

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