Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Researchers Call for More Studies to Clarify Relationship Between Autism and GI Symptoms

Parents often report gastrointestinal (GI) problems in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), yet great uncertainty remains about the association and any possible causation. Now a new meta-analysis of studies covering 2,215 children finds a greater risk of some gastrointestinal symptoms in children with ASD that in peers without the disorder.

Children with ASD experience more general gastrointestinal symptoms, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain, report Barbara McElhanon, M.D., and colleagues in the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine. However, the studies, often based on parents' reports or retrospective chart reviews, frequently lacked methodological rigor, said the authors, writing online April 28 in the journal Pediatrics. “No studies included confirmation of GI problems by a third-party care provider such as a physician."

They said that too few data were available from the original studies to draw conclusions about connections between ASD and organic pathologies or behavioral factors such as toilet training or feeding problems.

“As a result, the most logical conclusions remain that rates of other GI pathophysiology in ASD are similar to those observed in the general population, and there is no evidence suggesting a unique GI pathology in ASD,” they concluded. “Additional research is needed to elucidate the etiology, prevalence, topography, and remediation of GI problems in ASD, with consideration of the potential interwoven contributions of factors such as immune abnormalities, mucosal barrier dysfunction, gastrointestinal motility, feeding and toileting concerns, and the gut microbiome.”

For more in Psychiatric News about the intersection between psychiatric and gastrointestinal disorders, see "Childhood Stomach Pains May Foretell Adult Anxiety Disorders."

(Image: Bo Valentino/


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