Lactose Intolerance

  • Medical Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder Anand, MD

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Other tests to diagnose lactose intolerance

Genetic testing

The appearance and disappearance of lactase in the intestinal lining is controlled by genes. It is possible to analyze DNA, the substance of genes, from cells in the blood to determine if an individual has the genes that program disappearance of lactase. If they do, then they are very likely to be lactose intolerant. Genetic testing is the most direct way of diagnosing congenital or developmental lactase deficiency. Unfortunately, the test is relatively complex, expensive, and often not easily available. Moreover, it usually is not necessary to know an individual’s lactase genetics to diagnose and treat.

Intestinal biopsy

The most direct test for lactase deficiency is biopsy of the intestinal lining with measurement of lactase levels in the lining. The biopsy can be obtained by endoscopy or by special capsules that are passed through the mouth or nose and into the small intestine. The analysis of lactase levels in the biopsy requires specialized procedures that are not often available, and, as a result, lactase levels are not often measured except for research purposes.

Blood glucose test

The blood glucose test is an older test for lactase deficiency and lactose intolerance. For the blood glucose test, lactose is ingested (usually 0.75 to 1.5 gm. of lactose per kg of body weight) after an overnight fast, and serial blood samples are drawn and analyzed for glucose. If the level of blood glucose rises more than 25 mg/100ml, it means that the lactose has been split in the intestine and the resulting glucose has been absorbed into the blood. This implies that lactase levels are normal. Unfortunately, the blood glucose test, though simple in principle, requires the collection of multiple samples of blood. Moreover, the test has many real and potential problems, the most common of which is false positive tests, that is, an abnormal test in people who have normal lactase levels and no lactose intolerance. For these reasons, the blood glucose test is not often used.

Is there a test for lactose intolerance in infants and young children?

The stool acidity test is a test for lactase deficiency in infants and young children. For the stool acidity test, the infant or child is given a small amount of lactose orally. Several consecutive stool samples then are tested for acidity. With a deficiency of lactase, unabsorbed lactose enters the colon and is split into glucose and galactose. Some of the glucose and galactose is broken down by the bacteria into acids, for example, lactic acid. Lactic acid turns the stool acidic. Therefore, a lactase deficient infant or child will develop an acidic stool following the test dose of lactose.

Despite the availability of the stool acidity test, the superiority of breath testing has led to modifications in the equipment for collecting breath samples that makes it easier to do breath testing in young children and even infants. As a result, the stool acidity test is not done frequently.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/28/2016

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