Co-occurring / Comorbid Conditions

ComorbiditiesCoverThere are several medical conditions that have been shown to be significantly more prevalent in those with autism spectrum disorders than the general population.

Autism is a whole body disorder diagnosed by what is observable, however these signs and symptoms are often the result of underlying co-occurring / comorbid conditions.  Knowing what to look for is the first step in getting the most appropriate treatment.

Some common co-occurring conditions found in those with autism:

  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Seizure disorders
  • Oesophagitis
  • Gastritis
  • Reflux
  • Asthma
  • Eczema
  • Allergies
  • Ear infections
  • Respiratory infections
  • Migraine headaches
  • Allergy disorder (including non IgE-mediated disorders or food intolerances)

At times, it may be difficult for a health care practitioner to properly assess a patient with an ASD.  The parent or caregiver may not have known to watch for certain signs because they were told that ‘it was just the autism’.  There may be communication barriers or challenging behaviours preventing an obvious observation of a symptom, or perhaps the patients themselves don’t know where the pain originates from.  It then becomes even more important for the practitioner to be able to recognize some of the behaviours indicating an underlying comorbid condition.

Behaviours which may indicate an underlying comorbidity:

  • Sudden changes in behaviour
  • Aggression
  • Covering ears with hands
  • Loss of acquired skills
  • Irritability or moodiness
  • Frequent night waking or difficulty falling asleep
  • Teeth grinding
  • Walking on toes
  • Tantrums or oppositional behaviour
  • Self-injurious behaviour (biting, hitting, slapping, head-banging, etc.)
  • Chewing on clothes or objects
  • Vocal expressions (moaning, whining, groaning, sighing)
  • Posturing or seeking pressure
  • Repetitive rocking or other movements

Common sources of pain and discomfort (chronic, progressive or static):

  • Headache
  • Earache
  • Sore throat
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain

This information excerpted from the Medical Comorbidities in Autism Spectrum Disorder, A Primer for Health Care Professionals and Policy Makers, July 2014.