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Autistic Children have Higher Rates of Stomach Problems

Update Date: Apr 29, 2014 01:36 PM EDT

Even though autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of neurodevelopmental disorders, several studies have found a link between autistic children and gastrointestinal health. In a new study, researchers concluded that autistic children suffer from more stomach problems in comparison to non-autistic children.

"This is something that is a prominent concern for kids with autism, and that we should refocus our scientific endeavors to get an evidence-based approach for assessment and treatment of these kids," said study author William Sharp, a behavioral pediatric psychologist at the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, GA reported by WebMD.

For this study, the researchers reviewed 15 out of a pool of 961 previously published studies. These studies examined the link between gastric woes and autism, and used a control group in their comparisons. Based from this sample, the researchers discovered that autistic children were up to four times more likely to have some kind of stomach problems in comparison to non-autistic children around the same age. Stomach problems included abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation.

The researchers noted that they did not find a cause-and-effect relationship. The team also could not explain why this particular link exists. Previous studies have suggested that since autistic infants do not breastfeed well, they end up missing out on the benefits breast milk provides for the intestinal tract. Another explanation could be that autistic children are pickier eaters. Their stomach problems would then be caused by the small selection of foods that they eat.

Cynthia Johnson, the director of the autism center at the Children's hospital in Pittsburgh, PA, stated, "They need to know to raise their concerns with their pediatrician to make sure their child doesn't need to be seen by a gastroenterologist. But if it seems diet-related, they probably need to talk to a dietitian for a recommendation." She was not a part of the study.

The study was published in Pediatrics.

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