A new study has found that maternally reported gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in children are more common in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the first three years of life compared to children with typical development or developmental delay (DD). The research results appear in JAMA Psychiatry.

Michaeline Bresnahan, PhD, MPH, of Columbia University in New York, and colleagues reviewed data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study of 195 children with ASD, 4,636 children with DD and delayed language and/or motor development, and 40,295 children with typical development. A total of 95,278 mothers, 75,248 fathers, and 114,516 children were enrolled during a 10-year period (January 1, 1999 to December 31, 2008) and followed for up to 36 months. GI symptoms analyzed were based on the maternal reports of constipation, diarrhea, and food allergy/intolerance in the children.

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Based on the data, children with ASD had significantly greater odds of maternally reported constipation (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 2.7; 95% CI, 1.9–3.8; P<0.001) and food allergy/intolerance (aOR, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.1–2.6; P=0.01) in the 6- to 18-month-old age period and diarrhea (aOR, 2.3; 95% CI, 1.5–3.6; P<0.001), constipation (aOR, 1.6; 95% CI, 1.2–2.3; P<0.01), and food allergy/intolerance (aOR, 2.0; 95% CI, 1.3–3.1; P<0.01) in the 18- to 36-month-old age vs. children with typical development. Although similar results for these symptom categories were seen in children with DD, the ORs were slightly lower. Mothers of children with ASD were also more likely to report one or more GI symptoms in their children in either of the age ranges and were over twice as likely to report at least one GI symptom in both age ranges vs. mothers of children with typical development or developmental delay.

The authors add that clinicians should be aware of the potential increased risk of GI symptoms in children with ASD in the first three years of life (which may be persistent) and that treatments to address GI symptoms may be significantly beneficial to child well-being and in reducing difficult behaviors.

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