In a recently published paper in the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases journal, entitled “Prevalence of Inflammatory Bowel Disease Among Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorders“, researchers found that the occurrence of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) was increased in patients suffering from autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
ASD is characterized by an impaired ability to communicate and interact. The disease is often developed in early childhood and can last for years or be lifelong. Patients with ASD may suffer from behavioral problems, intense interest in a limited number of things/problems, speech impairment/loss, learning disability, poor coordination and constantly walking on tip toe, among others. A number of elements have been suggested as causes of ASD including genetics, neuroanatomical abnormalities, prenatal/perinatal and environmental factors such as exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, especially heavy metals and particulates. It is worth noting that in the US, an estimated 200,000 to 3 million cases are recorded every year. No cure is yet available for the disease, but treatments based on medications and various therapies like anger management, applied behavior analysis, sensory processing, and online speech therapy could help.
On the other hand, IBD is characterized by an ongoing inflammation in the digestive tract, including the colon, small intestine, mouth, esophagus, and stomach. It is estimated that around 50,000 individuals are killed by IBD every year, and the disease has no cure although several therapies can help relieve the symptoms. Patients with IBD may experience abdominal pain with severe internal cramps/muscle spasms, vomiting, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and weight loss. Though causes of IBD are complex and still not fully understood, several risk factors have been pointed out to contribute to the development of the disease, and these include genetic predisposition and environmental factors like a diet based on concentrated milk fats, antibiotics and oral iron preparations.
Recently, researchers suggested that ADS may also be a risk actor for the development of IBD. In this study, the researchers analyzed rates of IBD among patients with and without ASD recorded between 2009 to 2013. This was performed in 4 distinct study populations: i) nationwide claims data from the Aetna database (52,270 ASD patients and 7,151,925 controls), ii) data from Boston Children’s Hospital (7,201 ASD patients and 594,684 controls), iii) Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (1,555 ASD patients and 203,084 controls) and, iv) the North American ASD registry called Simons Simplex Consortium (2,728 ASD patients and no controls). The analyses were performed first by comparing patients with and without ASD in each study population followed by meta-analyses. In addition, the study included a comparison of data verified by experts (Boston Children’s Hospital and Simons Simplex Consortium) with data from nationally reported pediatric IBD rates. The results suggested that, when compared to controls, there was a significant increase in IBD rates in patients with ASD.
In summary, these findings demonstrate that in all investigated population studies, the occurrence of IBD in patients with ASD increased. Hence, patients with ASD are at risk and should be monitored by proper diagnostic methods for IBD.