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Autism May Increase the Risk of Diabetes, Heart Disease

  • Researchers say people with autism have a higher risk of developing cardiometabolic diseases, including type 1 and type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease.
  • They noted that one reason for the heightened risk for type 1 diabetes may be that people with autism have a higher incidence of autoimmune diseases.
  • They said, however, that it appears that people with autism don’t have an increased risk of high blood pressure or stroke.

People with autism spectrum disorder have a higher risk of developing cardiometabolic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, according to a review of studiesTrusted Source published today in JAMA Pediatrics.

Researchers used 34 studies that included 276,173 participants with autism and 7,733,306 individuals without the condition.

Overall, the researchers said they found that people with autism had a higher risk of developing diabetes, dyslipidemia, and heart disease.

However, they said there wasn’t any evidence of an increased risk of high blood pressure or stroke.

The studies included children and adults with autism, but the chances of developing diabetes and hypertension were higher among children with autism.

The details from the findings included:

  • Individuals with autism had a 57% higher risk of developing diabetes as compared to people without autism – the risk was 64% higher for type 1 diabetes, 146% higher for type 2 diabetes.
  • The risk of developing dyslipidemia was 69% higher in people with autism than in those without it.
  • The risk of developing atherosclerotic heart disease was nearly 46% higher in individuals with autism.
  • Triglyceride levels were significantly higher in people with autism.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and cholesterol levels were not significantly different in people with autism when compared to those without autism.
  • HDL or “good cholesterol” was significantly lower in those with autism.
  • People with autism did not have an increased risk of macrovascular disease.

Other factors in autism risks

The researchers noted that the higher risk of type 1 diabetes was likely due to an increased risk of autoimmune diseases in people with autism.

According to the researchers, it is possible that the increase in the likelihood of cardiometabolic diseases could be attributed to people with autism’s tendency to have a shorter life span.

Therefore, studies of older people could have an underrepresentation of individuals with autism.

Behavior and lifestyle factors that could influence the higher risk of heart disease include:

  • Food selectivity, especially if non-healthy foods are preferred foods
  • Physical limitations leading to less activity
  • Sedentary behaviors
  • Sleep disturbances
  • A side effect of medications, such as atypical antipsychotics, sometimes used to modify challenging behaviors

The scientists indicated that the research suggested an increased risk of diabetes, dyslipidemia, and atherosclerotic heart disease in individuals with autism.

“Children with autism seem to possess a higher risk of developing [diabetes] and hypertension compared with children without autism,” the researchers concluded. “Because developing cardiometabolic disease at an early age raises morbidity and health concerns, the need for healthcare, and mortality, clinicians should vigilantly monitor individuals with autism for early signs of cardiometabolic disease and their complications.”

“I am not surprised by the study results. The difficulty of getting children to eat right is multiplied by ten when you have an autistic child,” said Dr. Carlo Zeidenweber, a pediatrician and pediatric cardiologist at KIDZ Medical Services.

“As a society, we have come a long way in understanding autism,” he told Healthline. “The diagnosis doesn’t automatically indicate a poor outcome. We now have speech, physical, and occupational therapy to help children learn skills and coping mechanisms. But eating difficulties are still challenging, and it can be exhausting for parents.”

What to know about autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTrusted Source.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Problems with social communication and interaction
  • Restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests
  • Delayed language, movement, cognitive, and learning skills
  • Hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattentive behavior
  • Seizures
  • Unusual sleeping or eating habits
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Unusual mood or emotional reactions
  • Anxiety or excessive worry
  • Lack of fear or heightened fear response

The rates of autism without an intellectual disability have tripled in the past 16 years, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

It’s estimatedTrusted Source that one out of every 44 children in the United States is on the autism spectrum.

The researchers in the Pediatrics study cited greater awareness, better diagnostic tools, and a broader definition of autism as possible reasons.

The most significant increase was seen in affluent children, suggesting that children in underserved communities are not getting the same access to medical resources.

What can parents can do about children’s weight

The most significant warning sign for future cardiometabolic disease is being overweight, according to Zeidenweber.

Although he acknowledges this is a complicated problem, Zeidenweber said “parents do have some ability to influence weight. Parents typically buy the food for the household and they can limit access to junk and high-calorie foods. They have the choice to buy Twinkies or apples.”

However, he says he understands that autism is one of the most challenging conditions to manage and parent.

“Community resources are available through schools, local, state, and federal government programs, and private enterprises. Parents should take advantage of any and all resources,” he said.


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