Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Children with Autism Restricted; Files & ToC

Jaramillo, M. Elizabeth (Summer 2018)

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Background: The classification and defining symptomology of autism has, historically, been controversial. Once considered a mental health disorder, today autism is known as a complex neurodevelopmental disorder with a heterogeneous presentation. It is diagnosed based on observation of hallmark behavioral symptoms. Comorbid conditions have been increasingly recognized. Gastrointestinal complications are perhaps among the most common co-occurring conditions. The etiology and pathophysiology of autism remains unknown and immeasurable. There has been much debate over whether symptomatic epidemiology may help us understand the pathophysiology and intervention options for children with autism. 

Objective: This study aims to describe the change in the proportion of reported gastrointestinal symptoms among children with autism in a U.S.-based nationally representative sample, over the past decade. This study poses the question; does the association between gastrointestinal symptoms and autism stay constant from 2007 to 2016 in the National Health Interview Survey Data? 

Methods: This secondary data analysis will produce descriptive statistics, including frequencies, unadjusted and adjusted odds ratios, calculated per individual year from 2007 to 2016 of the National Health Interview Survey Sample Child data. Autism prevalence as well as age distribution across the decade was also calculated. Variables that represent gastrointestinal symptoms are referred to digestive allergy, stomach illness and diarrhea/colitis, and defined by the survey question. 

Results: This study cannot definitively conclude that there is not a pattern in the proportion of reported gastrointestinal symptoms (digestive allergies, stomach illness, and diarrhea/colitis) among children with autism, from 2007 to 2016 in the NHIS data. Based on odds ratios, the odds of having any of the three gastrointestinal symptoms hovered almost or right above significant over the decade, when compared to children without autism. Based on linear regression models, age and sex did not have an effect on the association between any of the three gastrointestinal variables and autism. 

Conclusion: A gastrointestinal pathophysiology specific to autism may be plausible and children with autism may perhaps experience a higher incidence of gastrointestinal symptoms than children without autism. However, the connection between the gut-brain-axis and autism remains poorly understood. The results of this study show an oscillation in the significance of the likelihood of digestive allergies, stomach illness or diarrhea/colitis among children with autism, compared to those without. These results imply that there is insufficient evidence for the need for health care recommendations or interventions that target autism-specific gastrointestinal symptoms. 

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