Autism Tied to Higher Risk for Gut Troubles in Children

In study, kids with the behavioral disorder were more prone to symptoms such as diarrhea or constipation

WEDNESDAY, March 25, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Children with autism tend to have more gastrointestinal problems early in life compared to other children, a new study finds.

Researchers compared these GI symptoms — such as diarrhea, constipation and food allergy/intolerance — during the first three years of life among three groups of Norwegian children. One group included 195 children with autism, another included more than 4,600 children with developmental delays, and the third group included more than 40,000 children who developed typically.

Compared to those with typical development, children with autism were more likely to have constipation and diarrhea when they were ages 6 months to 18 months, and more likely to have diarrhea, constipation and food allergy/intolerance when they were ages 18 months to 36 months, the researchers said.

Children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were more likely to have one or more GI symptoms in both age ranges, and more than twice as likely to have at least one GI symptom in both age ranges, compared to those with developmental delay or with typical development, the researchers said.

The study was published online March 25 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

“Even though GI symptoms are common in early childhood, physicians should be mindful that children with ASD may be experiencing more GI difficulties in the first three years of life than [typically developing] children,” wrote a team led by researcher Michaeline Bresnahan of Columbia University in New York City.

“Furthermore, the GI symptoms may be more persistent in children with ASD,” the researchers wrote.

However, “under-recognition and undertreatment” of these gastrointestinal issues is possible, they add, and treatment “may significantly contribute to the well-being of children with ASD and may be useful in reducing difficult behaviors.”

Dr. Andrew Adesman is chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, in New Hyde Park. He said the new study backs up findings from prior research that has also shown links between autism and increased risk for GI issues in kids.

However, Adesman added that “it is hard to know what to do with this information.

“Although the findings from this study suggest researchers need to further explore the relationship between autism and children’s gastrointestinal system, I am not sure there are practical lessons for parents or doctors other than to be attentive to the suggestion that GI complaints may be twice as common in young children on the autism spectrum,” Adesman said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

— Robert Preidt
SOURCES: Andrew Adesman, M.D., chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics, Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, New Hyde Park, N.Y.; JAMA Psychiatry, news release, March 25, 2015

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