Difference between Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Lactose Intolerance

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Quite often, lactose intolerance can be a result of, or even mistaken for several other gastrointestinal disorders. Along the same lines, an individual who is diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, could actually have lactose intolerance.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a sort of food allergy that is caused by many different factors, such as: food sensitivity, stress, immune system dysfunction, colon infection, and even due to poor diets.

Lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome have very similar symptoms, meaning that an individual who has lactose intolerance could be suspected as having irritable bowel syndrome, and vice versa. Following is an explanation of the difference between the two- despite their similarities.

Difference between Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Lactose Intolerance

Lactose Intolerance

If you have lactose intolerance, the following symptoms will typically begin about thirty minutes to two hours after consuming foods/drinks that contain lactose: nausea (occasionally with vomiting), gas and bloating, diarrhea, and cramps. These are usually fairly mild, but can sometimes be quite severe, depending on your level of lactose intolerance.

It has been said that approximately thirty to fifty million Americans are afflicted with lactose intolerance. There are certain ethnic groups that are much more likely to be affected by this than others. Those that are more prone to developing lactose intolerance are: Hispanic, Native Americans, Jews, African Americans, and Jews.

The older you get, the more likely you are to develop lactose intolerance because of the fact that the production of the lactase enzyme in your small intestine begins to decrease.

There is no medical cure for lactose intolerance. You must learn to control your diet properly, and possibly take lactase supplements- either in drop or tablet form. The drops must be placed in the milk 24 hours before you plan to drink it so that the lactose can be pre-digested for you.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

This is another of the most common ailments of the gastrointestinal system of American people. Around forty percent of Americans suffer from the disorder, just before the age of thirty-five. The signs and symptoms of IBS include pain, diarrhea, bloating, flatulence, cramps, diarrhea, and constipation.

While there are some individuals with irritable bowel syndrome have diarrhea- with constantly watery stools, others have the opposite end of the spectrum- constipation, with hard, infrequent bowel movements.

In some individuals, the symptoms will disappear after a while, as long as their food habits are properly regulated. However, there are others whose symptoms will reappear after several months.

As with lactose intolerance, there is no medical cure for irritable bowel syndrome. It can only be controlled by diet, a healthy lifestyle, and a relaxed (non-stressed) approach to life.

Irritable bowel syndrome is caused by an improper diet and being stressed. The medical world is still pretty baffled by what actually causes irritable bowel syndrome. Some react to certain foods, while others are not. The immune system could be involved somehow in causing irritable bowel syndrome. Quite often, it is basically due to high levels of stress.

Those who have IBS will feel the need to go to the bathroom after they are shocked or excited. IBS is very closely related to your stress levels and your emotional well-being. Poor diets and pasteurized, processed foods can also possibly contribute to IBS, if you’re not sure exactly what food is causing your IBS flare-ups.

More recent research has begun to show that there is an abnormal presence of the chemical serotonin in the gastrointestinal tract that could indicate irritable bowel syndrome.

Lactose Intolerance Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The symptoms of both irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance overlap so much that you may think you have irritable bowel syndrome, when you really have lactose intolerance- or vice versa. A study in Italy showed that out of 240 individuals who were diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, 157 of them actually had lactose intolerance. Diagnosis is crucial in this situation.

There are several tests that can be done to diagnose lactose intolerance, from eliminating and then slowly reintroducing milk to your diet to an intestinal biopsy (the last test, typically only done as part of a research process).

There are also several tests that can be done to determine whether or not you have irritable bowel syndrome such as testing of stool samples, x-rays, blood tests, colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or others. When you have a colonoscopy done, your physician will pass a camera in a tube through your anus, taking snapshots of your colon.

He/she will also gather information such as your medical history, an analysis of your symptoms, when your cramps start and end, and more. These all play a significant role in the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.

If you have already been positively diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, you can check yourself for lactose intolerance.

Differentiating between Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Lactose Intolerance

Actually, it is pretty simple to tell the difference between irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance. All you have to do is put yourself on a lactose free diet for a while- some say a week or two, some say three to four weeks.

If your symptoms begin to subside, then you are most likely lactose intolerant. If you have doubts, visit your physician and have a hydrogen breath test done.

Or, you can go on other diets that you suspect cause irritable bowel syndrome and observe your findings for a few weeks. If your symptoms do subside when you’re on the lactose free diet, but recur when you’re on an ordinary diet- it could be that lactose intolerance is what is behind your symptoms. Either way, confirmation with your physician can be quite helpful.

Though the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance do overlap, there is a difference between the two and it is critical that you find out which one you have if you expect to get any relief from your symptoms.

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