What Happens if You Ignore Lactose Intolerance?


Posted By Author on March 20, 2024

After a long day at work, you decide to splurge on a pint of ice cream as a job well done. What was supposed to be a special treat for a hard day’s work has now turned into terrible tummy aches and a desperate need for the bathroom. What went wrong? The ice cream could be the answer. Or, more specifically, a singular ingredient in the sweet treat: lactose. 

Statistics reveal that more than 65 percent of the world’s population has an intolerance to lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. As one of the most common gastrointestinal issues, it can also be one of the easiest to ignore. 

So, what happens if you ignore signs of lactose intolerance? Keep reading to find out what our gastroenterology specialists have to say and what it could mean for your digestive health. 

What is Lactose Intolerance?


Lactose intolerance, or lactose malabsorption, occurs when your body can’t break down or digest lactose. The small intestine is responsible for many GI tasks, including the production of a digestive enzyme called lactase. 

Lactase breaks down the lactose found in milk, dairy, and other foods so your body can absorb it. While you can have low levels of lactase and still be able to consume dairy and milk products without worry, levels that are too low can lead to lactose intolerance. Becoming lactose intolerant is typically harmless but can be accompanied by some uncomfortable symptoms. 

Causes and Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance 

Lactose intolerance can affect adults and children alike, and different factors can lead to lactase deficiency and resulting symptoms. 

Three Types of Lactose Intolerance 

Underlying factors of lactase deficiency can result in a different root cause. The three types of lactose intolerance include: 

  • Primary Lactose Intolerance: People who develop this type of lactose intolerance start life producing enough lactase in the body. As children grow and begin to replace milk with other foods, the amount of lactase produced in the body normally drops. However, primary lactase production falls off sharply by adulthood in this common form of lactose intolerance. 
  • Secondary lactose intolerance: This form occurs when your lactase production decreases after an injury, disease, or infection. Diseases associated with secondary lactose intolerance include celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and other intestinal infections. 
  • Congenital/developmental lactose intolerance: In this rare form, babies can be born with lactose intolerance. This disorder is passed genetically from one generation to the next, with each parent passing on the same gene to their child. 

Lactose Intolerance Symptoms

Symptoms of lactose intolerance can vary from person to person, starting anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours after consuming lactose foods or drinks. Symptoms can include: 

  • Abdominal cramps and pain 
  • Increased gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach bloating 
  • Nausea

While less common, other symptoms such as fatigue, constipation, and headaches can arise. These symptoms have not been established as “true” lactose intolerance symptoms and may be signs of another GI disease.

Talk to a GI doctor near you if you are suffering from possible lactose intolerance symptoms or other digestive symptoms or issues. 

What Happens if You Ignore Lactose Intolerance? 

For those who suspect lactose intolerance may be the culprit behind their upset stomachs or frequent bathroom breaks, is ignorance truly bliss? Ignoring your symptoms can only intensify the results. 

For those who suffer, ignoring symptoms can lead to enhanced stomach issues, chronic diarrhea, and additional health problems. For example, the development of chronic diarrhea can lead to anemia, dehydration, and kidney damage, among other serious concerns. 

Limiting your daily intake or choosing lactose-free or lactose-reduced alternatives could help ease symptoms before they turn serious. Talk to your Charleston gastroenterologist to discuss treatment and prevention options that fit your specific needs! 

Don’t Let an Upset Stomach Get You Down! Contact Charleston GI Today 

Whether you have been suffering with lactose intolerance for an extended period or are just starting to show symptoms, don’t let an upset stomach get you down! Our GI doctors in Charleston, SC are here to help ease your symptoms and help you live a life outside of the bathroom. 

We will provide you with treatment options and prevention tips to help find what works for you and your diet. 

We have four convenient Charleston area locations to choose from, in West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, Summerville, and Carnes Crossroads. There’s no referral needed, so schedule your appointment today!