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Lactose Intolerance May Sometimes Be in the Head, Not the Gut
Date:5/12/2011

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, May 12 (HealthDay News) -- Italian researchers report that some people who think they are lactose-intolerant may actually suffer from a psychological condition known as somatoform disorder.

With true lactose intolerance, a person is deficient in the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the lactose. Those who suffer it say they experience bloating, gas, gut pain and nausea when they eat or drink products containing the milk sugar lactose.

Somatoform disorder describes a group of conditions in which the physical pain and symptoms a person experiences are really related to psychological factors.

This new study shows that some people "should not blame lactose for symptoms of lactose intolerance," said Dr. Guido Basilisco, a researcher in the gastroenterology unit at IRCCS-Ca Granda, in Milan.

He presented the findings this week at Digestive Disease Week in Chicago.

In the study, Basilisco and his colleagues evaluated 102 patients, 77 of them female, who took a breath test commonly used to identify lactose intolerance. Patients also completed a questionnaire about somatization, anxiety and depression.

Those with somatoform disorder often report multiple problems in different areas of the body, such as faintness or weakness of a body part, Basilisco said, but no physical cause can be found.

Either lactose intolerance or malabsorption was identified in 29 percent and 33 percent of patients, respectively.

However, when Basilisco looked at those with what he calls "altered somatization," he found that "patients with altered somatization are four times more likely to report lactose intolerance."

It means there is strong link between the two conditions, he said.

Those who reported they were intolerant were also more likely to be anxious, but that link was not as strong.

The findings didn't surprise Dr. Mary Maish, surgical direc
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