Gastrointestinal Symptoms Reported by Moms More Common in Kids with Autism


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JAMA Psychiatry

Gastrointestinal symptoms reported by mothers were more common and more often persistent in the first three years of life in children with autism spectrum disorder than in children with typical development and developmental delay, according to an article published online by JAMA Psychiatry.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are characterized by problems in social communication and interaction, as well as restricted/repetitive behaviors. Medical and psychiatric conditions are frequently associated with ASD and among the most common are gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and disorders, according to study background.

Michaeline Bresnahan, Ph.D., M.P.H., of Columbia University, New York, and coauthors analyzed data from a large Norwegian mother and child study group to compare maternal reports of GI symptoms during the first three years of life in three groups of children: 195 children with ASD; 4,636 children with developmental delay (DD) and delayed language and/or motor development; and 40,295 children with typical development (TD). GI symptoms were based on mothers reporting constipation, diarrhea and food allergy/intolerance.

The authors found that children with ASD had higher odds of their mothers reporting constipation and food allergy/intolerance in the 6- to 18-month-old age range, and higher odds of diarrhea, constipation and food allergy/intolerance in the 18- to 36-month-old age range compared with children with typical development.

Mothers of children with ASD also were more likely to report one or more GI symptoms in their children in either of the age ranges and they were more than twice as likely to report at least one GI symptom in both age ranges compared with mothers of children with typical development or developmental delay, the study results indicate.

“Even though GI symptoms are common in early childhood, physicians should be mindful that children with ASD may be experiencing more GI difficulties in the first three years of life than children with TD and DD. Furthermore, the GI symptoms may be more persistent in children with ASD. The potential for underrecognition and undertreatment of GI dysfunction in the context of a complicated developmental picture is real. Treatments that address GI symptoms may significantly contribute to the well-being of children with ASD and may be useful in reducing difficult behaviors,” the study concludes.

(JAMA Psychiatry. Published online March 25, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.3034. Available pre-embargo to the media at

Editor’s Note: This research was supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, a grant from the National Institutes of Health /National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and other sources. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.


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