Is increased stress to blame in the development of GI problems in ASD?
David Beversdorf, MD and a team of researchers at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, are studying how children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) respond to stressful stimuli and whether those who show an increased response to stressful stimuli are more likely to report gastrointestinal (GI) problems. The results of this study could help doctors create better treatments for these children.
Children with ASD frequently report GI problems such as constipation, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Some children with ASDs have also been shown to produce more sweat. Sweat indicates a child’s perceived stress in response to stimuli in his or her environment caused by things they see, smell, and feel.
Research also indicates that children who are not on the spectrum, but have GI problems, report greater levels of anxiety and stress in comparison to children without these complications. Given these findings, it is possible that children with ASD who have a physiologically greater response to sensory stimuli, i.e., producing more sweat, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure, are at a greater risk for developing GI disorders.
“What we are seeing is that children who show greater physiological activity in response to certain types of stimuli are more likely to report having significant GI problems,” said Brad Ferguson, study coordinator and graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “What this means is that when mild stressors such as vibrations and cold water are applied to their hands, children with significant GI problems are producing more sweat and their heart rate and blood pressure are going up much more than those with low or no GI problems.”
Ferguson indicates that the study is not complete and that the results will not be conclusive until the team is able to test more children.
During the one hour study sessions, researchers ask participants to listen to sounds, touch vibrating objects, and puts their hands in cold water. Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) scores are used to rate the amount of sweat produced by each participant and electrocardiograms (ECG) record the electrical activity of the heart. Surveys, completed by the participant’s caregivers, provide information on the child’s GI functioning, such as occurrences of abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea.
Families who are interested in participating in the study should contact Brad Ferguson at email@example.com, or call 573-884-0545. Participation requires one visit and those who participate will receive compensation for their time.