02 April 2015

Autism tied to higher risk for gut troubles in kids

Kids with autism are more prone to symptoms such as diarrhoea or constipation, according to a new study.


Children with autism tend to have more gastrointestinal problems early in life compared to other children, a new study finds.

GI symptoms compared over 3 years

Researchers compared these GI symptoms – such as diarrhoea, 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.

Read: Autism or Asperger's?

Compared to those with typical development, children with autism were more likely to have constipation and diarrhoea when they were ages 6 months to 18 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 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Kids with ASD experience more GI difficulties

"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.

Read: Treating autism with intestinal worms

However, "under-recognition and under-treatment" 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 behaviours".

Dr. Andrew Adesman is chief of developmental and behavioural paediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Centre of New York, in New Hyde Park.

Study backs up prior findings

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".

Read: Maternal antibodies linked to autism

"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.

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