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Gastrointestinal Disorders Are Not Linked to Autism, Study Finds

7/27/2009  

Little data exists on a possible association between autism and gastrointestinal disorders, although the suggestion of such a connection has widespread popularity. Children with autism may, however, be more likely to have feeding and food selectivity issues that can lead to constipation, according to the study “Incidence of Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Children With Autism: A Population-Based Study.” 

Researchers studied 124 children with a diagnosis of autism from birth to age 18. They looked at the incidence of five groups of gastrointestinal symptoms, including constipation, diarrhea, abdominal bloating/discomfort, reflux or vomiting, and feeding issues/food selectivity. No significant difference was found in overall incidence of gastrointestinal symptoms between the children with autism and the control group of children without autism. There was no evidence of increased incidence of malabsorption or inflammation in the digestive tract. Feeding issues and constipation were more common in the children with autism, which the authors concluded may be due to neurobehavioral factors associated with autism, such as need for routine and insistence on sameness in the diet. Some medications used to treat children with autism also can lead to appetite suppression and constipation. 

According to the authors, children with autism should not be treated indiscriminately with restrictive diets or dietary supplements, which should only be used for specific gastrointestinal disorders.    

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.