Gastrointestinal (GI) conditions are more common in patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than the general population. The estimated prevalence probably underrepresents the true frequency of GI disorders, since subjective complaints such as heartburn or abdominal pain are difficult to determine in patients that cannot clearly identify or communicate these sensations. The GI diagnoses suffered by individuals with ASD are not unique to this population; however, GI conditions in these patients may not present with the usual signs and symptoms due to communication limitations. Common GI problems found in ASD patients include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), constipation and associated encopresis, feeding difficulties, abdominal pain, and food allergies or sensitivities. While many patients with ASD may display classic symptoms, such as abdominal pain, vomiting, or changes in stooling pattern, others may display purely behavioral changes. These behaviors can include abnormal vocalizations or motor movements, stereotypies or repetitive behaviors, sleep disruption, and aggression or self-injurious behavior. In addition, sensory issues and comorbid conditions such as anxiety can complicate an individual’s response to GI symptoms, masking or amplifying the underlying GI condition.
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