Stress in GI Disorders & Autism

The Facts

Many individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) have symptoms of associated medical conditions (often called co-morbidities), including seizures, sleep problems, metabolic conditions, and gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. All of these co-morbidities have significant health, developmental, social, and educational impacts for people with autism.

Gastrointestinal complaints are a commonly reported concern for parents and may be related to problem behaviors and other medical issues such as dysregulated sleep (ATN Annual Registry Report, unpublished data, November 2009). About 70% of all individuals with autism have some sort of GI discomfort.

Types of GI Issues

  • Food allergies
  • Metabolic abnormalities
  • Pre-existing nutrient deficiencies
  • Nutrition-related medication side-effects
  • Leaky gut

The Problem: Lack of GI Research

Despite the magnitude of these issues, potential GI problems are not routinely considered in ASD evaluations. This is most likely due to several factors, including:

  • variability in reported rates of GI disorders,
  • controversies regarding the relationship between GI symptoms and the putative causes of autism,
  • the limited verbal capacity of many individuals with ASDs, and
  • the lack of recognition by clinicians that certain behavioral manifestations in children with ASDs are indicators of GI problems (eg, pain, discomfort, or nausea).

The Solution

GI issues could be directly related to the pathophysiology of autism, or they could be strictly a co-morbid condition of autism. Either way, GI issues have considerable impact on an individual’s daily life and both scientific and clinical research need to be done consistently to determine treatment and intervention strategies.

We may find that some symptoms of autism might not be as severe — or disappear altogether — if we can identify and treat the GI discomforts many people with autism feel but just have trouble communicating and identifying in their own bodies.

The Autism Research Foundation develops and supports research project aims that directly consider the effect stress has on GI issues and individuals with autism.

Click to support GI research in Autism Spectrum Disorders
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