Severe autism symptoms linked with common gastrointestinal problems, study reveals

Children with severe autism symptoms are more likely to experience gastrointestinal problems, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the Ohio State University College of Public Health, is among the first to investigate the connection between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and stomach issues, such as chronic diarrhoea, constipation, food sensitivities and abdominal pain.

The report comes after separate research found that children with ASD are more likely than peers to experience gastrointestinal abnormalities.

To carry out the study, the authors analysed the medical records of children with autism and compared their gut health to the severity of their symptoms, such as social and communication difficulties and repetitive behaviours.

While the paper found no link between gastrointestinal health and social and communication problems, a link was discovered between the severity of repetitive behaviours, such as rocking back and forth and hand flapping.

While it was impossible to determine the exact biological mechanisms involved, the researchers say the study helps “establish that gastrointestinal symptoms may exacerbate repetitive behaviours, or vice versa” – a finding that could “one day help lead to helpful interventions”.

Commenting on the paper, author Payal Chakraborty said: “In the general population, there’s a fair amount of evidence about the connection between mood and mental disorders and gastrointestinal difficulties.

“In autism, we wonder if the gut problems children experience are a core part of the disease itself or whether they’re brought on by other symptoms that children with autism experience.”

She added: “GI problems are a significant issue for many people with autism and there’s evidence that these symptoms might exacerbate certain autism behaviours, which can lead to greater developmental challenge.”

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