Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Lactose Intolerance: Care Instructions
Facebook Tweet Email Share

Main Content

Lactose Intolerance: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Lactose is sugar that is found in milk and milk products. Some people do not make enough of an enzyme called lactase, which digests lactose. When this happens it can cause gas, belly pain, diarrhea, and bloating. This is called lactose intolerance. This is not the same as food allergy to milk.

Lactose intolerance affects different people in different ways. Some people cannot digest any milk products. Other people can eat or drink small amounts of milk products or certain types of milk products without problems. You can learn how to avoid discomfort and still get enough calcium to maintain healthy bones.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Limit the amount of milk and milk products in your diet. Try to drink 1 glass of milk each day. Drink small amounts several times a day. All types of milk contain the same amount of lactose. If you are not sure whether a milk product causes symptoms, try a small amount and wait to see how you feel before you eat or drink more.
  • Eat or drink milk and milk products along with other foods. For some people, combining a solid food (like cereal) with a dairy product (like milk) can reduce symptoms.
  • Eat small amounts of milk products throughout the day instead of larger amounts all at once.
  • Eat or drink milk and milk products that have reduced lactose. In most grocery stores, you can buy milk with reduced lactose, such as Lactaid milk.
  • Eat or drink other foods instead of milk and milk products. Try soy beverage and soy cheese, and use non-dairy creamers in your coffee. Keep in mind that nondairy creamers may contain more fat than milk.
  • Use lactase products. These are dietary supplements that help you digest lactose. Some are pills that you chew (such as Lactaid) before you eat or drink milk products. Others are liquids that you add to milk 24 hours before you drink it. Try a few products and brands to see which ones work best for you.
  • Some people who are lactose-intolerant can eat some kinds of yogurt without problems, especially yogurt with live cultures. It's best to try a small amount of different brands of yogurt to see which ones work best for you.
  • Watch out for lactose in foods you buy. Some prepared foods contain lactose, including breads and baked goods, breakfast cereals, instant potatoes and soups, margarine, salad dressings, and many snacks. Be sure to read labels for lactose and for lactose's "hidden" names. These include dry milk solids, whey, curds, milk by-products, and nonfat dry milk powder.
  • Be sure to get enough calcium in your diet, especially if you avoid milk products completely. To get enough calcium, you would need to eat calcium-rich foods as often as someone would drink milk. Calcium is very important because it keeps bones strong and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. Ask your dietitian for advice on how to get enough calcium. Foods that have calcium include:
    • Broccoli, spinach, kale, and collard, mustard, and turnip greens.
    • Canned sardines and other small fish that have bones you can eat.
    • Calcium-fortified orange juice.
    • Soy products such as fortified soy beverage and tofu.
    • Almonds.
    • Dried beans.
  • If you are worried about getting enough nutrients, ask your doctor about taking supplements, such as calcium and vitamin D.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse belly pain.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter H201 in the search box to learn more about "Lactose Intolerance: Care Instructions".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.