Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are most likely to experience gastrointestinal (GI) problems, although the underlying etiology is unknown. There is a clear association between GI issues and the intensity of GI symptoms, although the two have not been related to nutritional deficiencies or mental retardation. However, developmental and behavioral features of ASD may mask GI problems in these patients (American Society for Microbiology, 2021). Therefore, careful screening for GI disorders should be done in this population. According to the American Society for Microbiology (2021), clinicians should consider the underlying causes of these symptoms when treating them with medication or therapies. This paper will focus on the relation of Gastrointestinal symptoms to autism spectrum disorder. In particular, it will relate to similarities of both according to how they affect individuals and reflect on the explanations of the problems related to ASD and GI.

International researchers are beginning to understand the role of gut microbiota in the growth of autism spectrum disorder and other immune-related diseases. Scientists from Spain, Belgium, and Italy have directed their efforts to reveal a link between gastrointestinal symptoms in children with ASD and specific characteristics of their microbiome (Chaidez et al., 2014). The research team discovered dysbiosis earlier than expected and previously undetected in children with ASD. Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the gut microbiome that can disrupt immune function and produce inflammation leading to the development of ASD.

ASD is traditionally defined as a collection of developmental diseases that impairs a child’s capacity for communication and social interaction with other people. In addition, it is associated with a high risk of suicide. Individuals with ASD can display significant variations of severity, requiring flexible and multidisciplinary approaches to care. The symptoms often result in extreme challenges for the child’s family, including sleep problems, eating difficulties, and tantrums. ASD affects around one in every 68 children, according to figures provided by the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention (Fröhlich et al., 2019). These disorders are currently diagnosed based on clinical observations, development tests, and parental reports. Researchers in medicine have developed a treatment that uses machine-learning algorithms to identify children with autism spectrum disorder reliably using only observational data such as physician notes in electronic medical records (EMRs). The data observation and machine learning are marked by social communication and engagement challenges and constrained and repetitive habits and interests.

An increasing body of research implies that gastrointestinal issues and autism spectrum conditions are linked. Thus, Chaidez et al. (2014) state that several problems are common in both diseases, with estimates that up to 80 percent of people with ASD experience some form of GI issue that deters their average body functioning. GI problems may cause or worsen autism spectrum disorder symptoms. Most of those children with ASD who had GI issues had more severe ASD symptoms than those who did not have GI problems. It is also confirmed that most children with ASD treated for their GI disorders showed improvements in their ASD symptoms. More research is needed better to understand the link between gastrointestinal difficulties and ASD. However, the available evidence suggests that GI problems have many similarities with ASD and may affect the severity of ASD signs and symptoms.

Autism spectrum disorder and gastrointestinal symptoms have become increasingly common in children and adults. Some children with ASD experience various gastrointestinal disturbances, including constipation, diarrhea, gastrointestinal discomfort, and stomach pain. The exact cause of these disorders is unknown (Chaidez et al., 2014). Nevertheless, a compromised intestinal barrier may result from inflammation of the gut tissues caused by incomplete digestion of food consumed by people with ASD. More than half of children with ASD improve gastrointestinal problems when given dietary supplements such as GLA (gamma-linolenic acid).

Gastrointestinal symptoms are common among people who are infected by autism spectrum disorder. While specialists have much to learn about the relationship between GI symptoms and ASD, some children with autism may have difficulty eating due to their sensory issues, which can lead to malnourishment (Potts & Bellows, 2006). These children might need help from healthcare professionals such as speech therapists and dieticians to overcome their eating difficulties. Parents and caregivers can help by offering small, frequent meals and snacks, encouraging the child to eat slowly, and making mealtimes calm and relaxed (American Society for Microbiology, 2021). Parents should allow the child to find easy to eat and digest foods and actively encourage the child to participate in physical activity as well. In addition, some medications that treat symptoms of autism may cause gastrointestinal side effects such as diarrhea or constipation, which could lead to other health problems if not monitored closely by a physician.

Gastrointestinal problems and autism have been widely established for more than two decades. However, despite these facts and evidence, GI symptomatology is rarely officially documented as a manifestation of autism spectrum disorder. Moreover, many individuals with ASD are unrecognized or misdiagnosed due to their physical complaints being perceived by medical professionals as psychiatric problems rather than manifestations of an organic disease process (Fröhlich et al., 2019). By definition, autism is an organic brain disorder characterized by difficulties with communication, social reciprocity, and behavioral flexibility. These are called autistic triad impairments and should not be confused with common psychiatric problems associated with ASD, such as depression and anxiety. Autism spectrum disorder is a complicated developmental condition that usually manifests itself within the first three years of a person’s life and interferes with their capacity to communicate and engage in social activities with other people. Since there is a lack of cure for ASD, treatments can improve symptoms related to communication deficits, aggression and self-injury, sleep disturbances, and depression.

Children with ASD can exhibit many other concerns and gastrointestinal issues, and it can be challenging to manage these health challenges in a child with an ASD diagnosis. For this reason, the parents of children who already have autism need to closely monitor their child’s development so that any delays or abnormalities are promptly treated by a professional in the field (Chakraborty et al., 2021). The link between gastrointestinal (GI) signs and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remains under investigation. The primary causes of GI signs in children with ASD are GI inflammation and increased gastrointestinal permeability.

In conclusion, there is currently no systematic evaluation to determine the pathophysiology of these symptoms and whether they are due to a common mechanism. The connection between GI symptoms in autism and brain-gut axis dysfunction supports the hypothesis that GI symptoms may be caused by neuroimmune disturbances in the enteric nervous system (ENS). However, the factor of age is an important one as children can be affected with autism spectrum disorder while older adults are concerned with gastroenterological problems. It is essential to understand that children with ASD often report GI signs like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, pain, and vomiting.


American Society for Microbiology. (2021). Gut microbiome plays role in autism, study finds. ScienceDaily.

Chaidez, V., Hansen, R. L., & Hertz-Picciotto, I. (2014). Gastrointestinal problems in children with autism, developmental delays or typical development. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(5), 1117–1127.

Chakraborty, P., Carpenter, K. L. H., Major, S., Deaver, M., Vermeer, S., Herold, B., Franz, L., Howard, J., & Dawson, G. (2021). Gastrointestinal problems are associated with increased repetitive behaviors but not social communication difficulties in young children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism, 25(2), 405–415.

Fröhlich, H., Kollmeyer, M. L., Linz, V. C., Stuhlinger, M., Groneberg, D., Reigl, A., Zizer, E., Friebe, A., Niesler, B., & Rappold, G. (2019). Gastrointestinal dysfunction in autism displayed by altered motility and achalasia in Foxp1+/− mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(44), 22237–22245.

Potts, M., & Bellows, B. (2006). Speaker’s corner: Autism and diet. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 60(5), 375–375.

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