Saturday 13 January 2018

Bowel issues over-represented in autism (and perhaps linked to some behaviours)

"Make it so Mr WORF"
Once again(!) more evidence emerges from the peer-reviewed science domain highlighting how functional gastrointestinal (GI) issues such as constipation and diarrhoea are very much over-represented when it comes to a diagnosis of autism (see here). The study providing the data this time was by Zhu and colleagues [1] and was carried out in China; thus illustrating how such bowel issues cross countries and ethnicity when it comes to autism.

There's little novelty in their findings that all-manner of functional bowel condition were more frequently present in their cohort of over 320 children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared with some 200 not-autism controls. The authors' observation that almost 50% of their sample of children diagnosed with autism presented with at least one bowel issue is not as surprising in research-terms as it perhaps once might have been.

What is perhaps interesting is the growing focus on how such bowel issues may *correlate* with behaviour noted in children with autism, as per the results of other independent findings (see here). To quote from Zhu et al: "Compared with ASD children without GID [gastrointestinal disorders] (n=166), the ASD children with GID (n=162) got higher scores in the "Body and Object Use" of ABC [Autism Behavior Checklistscale... and had more emotional problems. Moreover, the score of behavior problems questionnaire was higher in the ASD children with GID." This is not necessarily new news to many people (particularly to parents and caregivers) but should be a topic that is given more research and clinical consideration among professionals.

More needs to be done in this area, not least on:

  • improving the ways of detecting and reporting on functional bowel issues in the context of autism (see here),
  • ensuring that questions about bowel function are asked during autism assessments and exams,
  • moving away from over-simple 'psychological' assumptions/explanations to potentially account for bowel issues in relation to autism (see here) without appropriate gastroenterological referral (also including ridding ourselves of the old-saying 'it's part of their autism'),
  • ensuring that appropriate gastroenterological resources are available and timely referral is present (particularly for paediatric resources),
  • following guidance that is out there in the peer-reviewed domain on screening and treating bowel issues in the context of autism (see here),
  • not being afraid to look for signs of more serious bowel pathology as and when functional bowel symptoms are present (see here) and,
  • embracing the idea that gut and brain might not be completely separate and independent in the context of autism and beyond (see here). 

'Nuff said I think.

But just before you go, some other study results [2] for you to mull over with regards to the question: what is the 'normal range' of bowel movements? Answer: anything from 3 a day to 3 a week apparently.


[1] Zhu J. et al. Association between behavioral problems and gastrointestinal disorders among children with autism spectrum disorder. Zhonghua Er Ke Za Zhi. 2017 Dec 2;55(12):905-910.

[2] Mitsuhashi S. et al. Characterizing Normal Bowel Frequency and Consistency in a Representative Sample of Adults in the United States (NHANES). Am J Gastroenterol. 2018 Jan;113(1):115-123.


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