Study Suggests Autism is Associated with Increased Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes

A systematic review and meta-analysis of research found that autistic people have a 45.9% higher risk of developing heart disease and a 146.7% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-autistic individuals.

According to the latest statistics, one in 44 children in the United States has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, recent news reports suggest that number may be higher.

In addition to social, behavioral, and communication challenges, autistic people are also more likely to have other conditions along with ASD. These conditions include anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal disorders, and allergies.

What’s more, research suggests that autistic individuals are at higher risk of obesity, which could increase the risk of several cardiometabolic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

To investigate this further, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center researchers sought to examine the association between ASD and cardiometabolic diseases. According to the authors, their research is the first comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis to explore these potential autism-associated risks.

The study was published on January 30 in JAMA Pediatrics.

To conduct the analysis, the team evaluated 34 studies that included 276,173 participants with autism and 7,733,306 individuals without ASD.

After examining the data, the scientist found that autistic people had a 64.1% increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes and a 146.7% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-autistic individuals.

Moreover, autistic individuals had a 45.9% higher risk of developing heart disease compared to those without ASD.

Autistic people also had a 69.4% higher risk of having unbalanced cholesterol levels than people without ASD. Specifically, autistic individuals had statistically and clinically significant low HDL (bad cholesterol) and high triglyceride levels compared to those without autism. Experts believe high triglycerides with low HDL are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

However, the researchers found no significantly increased risk of high blood pressure or stroke in autistic individuals. Still, the team found the chances of developing diabetes in general and hypertension were higher among autistic children.

The study authors suggest that because autistic individuals seem to have a higher associated risk of developing diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease, healthcare providers should monitor people with ASD for early signs of cardiometabolic disease and their complications.

They also note that future research should attempt to identify factors contributing to these potential health risks so healthcare providers can implement appropriate prevention strategies.


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