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Clinical Nutrition

Perception of lactose intolerance impairs health-related quality of life



Chronic conditions impair perception of well-being. Malabsorption of lactose is the most frequent form of malabsorption and manifests as lactose intolerance. There is a lack of information regarding their impact on self-perception of health. The objective of this study is to determine the subjective impact of self-reported lactose intolerance or objective lactose malabsorption on patient health by using a patient-reported outcome to measure health-related quality of life (HRQOL) and modification of lactose-containing food diet.


A 3-year prospective, cross-sectional study was performed in patients referred for a lactose hydrogen breath test. Patients were asked about their subjective opinion relative to their lactose tolerance and completed a validated, specific questionnaire to determine symptoms of intolerance during habitual consumption of dairy. A 50-g lactose breath test was then performed. Patients were grouped as absorbers vs malabsorbers and tolerant vs intolerants.


A total of 580 patients were included (median age 30 years, 419 female). Overall, 324 patients (56%) considered themselves lactose intolerant and that perception was associated with avoidance of dairy consumption (55% vs only 9% of self-defined tolerants). Self-perception of intolerance was associated with lower HRQOL scores (median, 60 vs 70, P<0.01). In contrast, lactose objective malabsorption was not clearly associated with dairy avoidance (41% of malabsorbers avoided dairy vs 31% of absorbers). However, HRQOL scores were also significantly lower in malabsorbers than in absorbers (60 vs 70 respectively, P<0.001).


Subjective perception of lactose intolerance affects the decision to avoid dairy even more than objective malabsorption. However, both self-perception of lactose intolerance and objective lactose malabsorption are associated with poorer perceived quality of life.

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Correspondence to F Casellas.

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FC contributed to study concept and design; acquisition of data; analysis and interpretation of data; and drafting of the manuscript. AA, MJP and PR contributed to acquisition of data.

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Casellas, F., Aparici, A., Pérez, M. et al. Perception of lactose intolerance impairs health-related quality of life. Eur J Clin Nutr 70, 1068–1072 (2016).

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