Crohn’s disease and lactose intolerance both affect the digestive system and cause some of the same symptoms, such as diarrhea and abdominal pain.
In this article, we look at Crohn’s disease and lactose intolerance in more detail and compare their causes, symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment.
Lactose intolerance vs. Crohn’s disease
Crohn’s disease is a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). According to estimates, doctors diagnosed IBD in more than 3 million adults in the United States in 2015.
Lactose intolerance affects around 30 to 50 million U.S. adults. People with this condition are unable to digest a type of sugar called lactose, which is present in milk and most other dairy products.
For individuals with lactose intolerance, consuming products containing this sugar can cause similar symptoms to Crohn’s disease. However, the two conditions have very different causes and treatments.
The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is not clear, but doctors think that it may have autoimmune characteristics, meaning that the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the body. Experts also think that a person’s genes and other factors, such as smoking or previous infection, may play a role in the development of this condition.
Crohn’s disease can occur anywhere along the digestive tract, but it most commonly affects the small intestine or the start of the colon. The inflammation can affect several areas of the digestive tract at once, and the symptoms can vary considerably.
People with lactose intolerance are unable to break down lactose because they do not produce enough of an enzyme called lactase. The body uses lactase to break lactose down into two simpler sugars called glucose and galactose.
Undigested lactose moves into the colon, where bacteria ferment it. This process leads to a buildup of gases and fluids that cause the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
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