Lactose intolerance is exceedingly common, reportedly affecting up to 70% of the world’s population, leading to both abdominal and systemic symptoms. Current treatment focuses predominantly on restricting dietary consumption of lactose. Given lactose is one of the most commonly used excipients in the pharmaceutical industry, consideration must be given to the lactose content and therefore safety of pharmaceutical preparations prescribed for patients with lactose intolerance. This article summarizes the current literature examining the likelihood of inducing adverse effects through the administration of lactose-containing pharmaceutical preparations in patients reporting lactose intolerance, describes how to assess this risk on an individual patient basis and reviews suitable analgesic options for this population.
A case study is presented detailing a patient reporting lactose intolerance who insists on treatment with the lactose-free product codeine/ibuprofen (Nurofen Plus) rather than other codeine-free analgesics. It is important to assess the likelihood of lactose as an excipient inducing symptoms in this scenario, as reluctance to cease codeine could suggest codeine dependence, an issue that is becoming increasingly common in countries such as Australia and Canada. Given codeine dependence is associated with serious sequelae including hospitalization and death, the patient must either be reassured the lactose component in their prescribed analgesics will not induce symptoms or an alternative treatment strategy must be confirmed. General recommendations applying theory from the literature to the management of acute pain in lactose-intolerant patients are discussed and specific treatment options are outlined.
Although large inter-individual variability is reported, most lactose-intolerant patients can tolerate the small quantities of lactose found in pharmaceutical preparations. Cumulative lactose exposure can be assessed in patients taking multiple medications while also consuming lactose in the diet. In those sensitive to small quantities of lactose, lactase supplements can be trailed. Additionally, for the analgesic drug classes employed for the management of acute pain, lactose-free formulations, including most oral liquids and dispersible tablets and some oral tablets and capsules, are available.