Including milk in your diet provides essential calcium and nutrients for strong bones, hormone production and other functions. While dairy can be beneficial, it might be harmful for certain people. Having bowel problems or an intolerance to milk may cause severe pain and cramping in your abdomen. If milk bothers your stomach, stop drinking it immediately and make a trip to see your physician. Your doctor may want to run tests to determine an underlying cause.
Lactose intolerance is a condition in which your small intestine does not produce enough lactase. This enzyme is necessary to break down complex milk sugar or lactose. Since your body is unable to digest dairy, you may experience unpleasant effects as it travels through your small intestine, near the upper part of your abdomen. Severe abdominal cramping can occur anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours after you consume milk or milk products, explains the National Center for Biotechnology Information. In addition to a belly ache, you may experience bloating, diarrhea and gas.
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A milk allergy is different from lactose intolerance. This condition occurs when your immune system overreacts and treats milk like a foreign substance. Within minutes of consuming milk or foods containing milk, you might start wheezing or break out in hives. As the milk travels through your digestive tract, you may experience abdominal pain, diarrhea or itchy skin. Milk allergies are more prevalent in children than adults. Typically, kids outgrow milk allergies by age 3, notes the Mayo Clinic.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome, IBS for short, is another condition that can lead to stomach upset. Many things can cause IBS, including diet, stress or a bacterial infection in your intestinal tract. IBS may be triggered by eating certain foods, such as milk and dairy. If you have IBS, you may have irregular bowel movements or chronic diarrhea. These unpleasant bowel problems can lead to bloating, gas and severe abdominal pain.
Your doctor may suggest eliminating dairy from your diet if you continue to have stomach problems. Some over-the-counter medications may help improve stomach upset, but you should check with your doctor before taking a new medication. If your doctor determines you have a lactose intolerance, you can purchase supplements to take before you eat dairy. These medications work like lactase and help your body break down milk sugars, thus preventing abdominal pains. Unfortunately, if your doctor determines that you have an allergy or IBS, you might need to give up dairy products altogether.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.