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Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2001 Mar;13(3):219-25.

Irritable bowel syndrome: is the search for lactose intolerance justified?

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Department of Gastroenterology, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, UK.



To determine if confirmation of hypolactasia offers any benefit to the dietary treatment of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


One hundred and twenty-two consecutive IBS patients (37 male, 85 female) were given lactose hydrogen breath tests (LHBT). Those with positive LHBT followed a low lactose diet for 3 weeks. Those improving on the diet were given double-blind, placebo-controlled challenges (DBPCC) with 5 g, 10 g and 15 g of lactose and a placebo, to confirm lactose intolerance. Those who did not respond to the low lactose diet followed either an exclusion or low fibre diet. Symptoms scores were kept prior to the LHBT, 8 h post-LHBT and daily whilst following any dietary change. Patients with negative LHBT returned to clinic and subsequent dietary interventions were recorded.


LHBT was positive in 33/122 (27%) IBS patients. Syrr otom scores prior to LHBT were not significantly different between the two groups, but after LHBT the symptoms in the positive group were significantly worse. Twenty-three patients followed a low-lactose diet of which only nine (39%) improved. Six who did not improve followed an exclusion diet, three improved and all were intolerant of milk. Three tried a low fibre diet with two improving. DBPCC were inconclusive. In the negative LHBT group 35 agreed to try a diet and 24 improved (69%). Eight were intolerant of cow's milk.


Use of a low lactose diet was disappointing in IBS patients with lactose malabsorption. Food intolerance was demonstrated in IBS patients with positive or negative LHBT and milk was identified as a problem in both groups. DBPCC were inconclusive. There appears to be little advantage in trying to separate patients who malabsorb lactose from others with IBS.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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