Lactose malabsorption diagnosed by 50-g dose is inferior to assess clinical intolerance and to predict response to milk withdrawal than 25-g dose in an endemic area



Dr Uday C Ghoshal, Professor, Department of Gastroenterology, Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow-226014, India. Email:



Lactose malabsorption (LM), diagnosed currently using lactose hydrogen breath and tolerance tests (LHBT, LTT) with a high, nonphysiological dose (50-g), may mimic irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In LM-endemic areas, clinically significant malabsorption (lactose intolerance) may be better diagnosed using a lesser dose, and positive results so obtained may predict response to milk withdrawal more effectively.


Fifty patients each with IBS (Rome III) were evaluated using LHBT and LTT with 50-g, 25-g, and 12-g lactose. Sensitivity and specificity of LHBT and LTT with different dosages (gold standard: lactase gene C/T-13910 polymorphism) and symptom development were evaluated. Effect of milk withdrawal was studied.


Of 150 patients, 37/50 (74%) and 28/50 (56%) had LM by LHBT and LTT using 50-g lactose; 41/50 (82%) and 31/50 (62%) had LM using 25-g lactose, and 14/50 (28%) and 29/50 (58%) using 12-g lactose, respectively. Sensitivity and specificity of LHBT using 50-g, 25-g, and 12-g lactose were 92.6%, 52.0%, and 94%, 60%, and 36.4%, 88.2%, and those of LTT, 92%, 80.0%, and 84.8%, 82.4%, and 66.7%, 58.8%, respectively. Breath hydrogen correlated with lactose dose. Though patients developing symptoms with 50-g lactose exhaled more hydrogen than those remaining asymptomatic, hydrogen levels did not differ following 25-g and 12-g dosages in relation to symptom development. Patients' milk intake was 335 ± 92 mL/d (≈ 16.7 ± 9.6-g lactose). Positive LHBT using 25-g dose better predicted symptom resolution than by 50-g and 12-g lactose.


Twenty-five gram is the ideal dose of lactose for LHBT and LTT in LM-endemic areas.