A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Summer, 2018 | Number 3, Volume 32

Medical and psychiatric co-occurring conditions frequently affect individuals with ASD, researchers find

Medical and psychiatric comorbidities are very common in teens and young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), according to a new study. 

Meghan Davignon and colleagues analyzed data collected from Kaiser Permanente Northern California members, all between 14 years and 25 years of age and all enrolled in the healthcare delivery system from 2013 to 2015. The researchers compared more than 4,000 individuals with ASD to three control groups: 

• More than 20,000 peers with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), who served as a neurobehavioral control group. 

• More than 2,000 individuals with diabetes mellitus (DM), who served as a medical control group. 

• More than 20,000 controls not diagnosed with ASD, ADHD, or DM. The researchers report that more than one-third of individuals with ASD had cooccurring psychiatric conditions. In addition, individuals with ASD had a high rate of medical conditions. 

The researchers say, “The most common medical conditions in transition-aged individuals with ASD included infections (42%), obesity (25%), neurologic conditions (18%), allergy and/or immunology conditions (16%), musculoskeletal conditions (15%), and GI conditions (11%).” 

Psychiatric conditions were more common in individuals with ASD than in any of the control groups, although there were two exceptions: Drug abuse was less common in the ASD group than in any control group, and depression, while elevated in ASD, was less common than in ADHD. One finding of particular concern, the researchers say, was that the suicide rate was nearly four times higher in the ASD group than in neurotypical controls. Most medical conditions were more common in the ASD group than in the ADHD and typical control groups, although individuals with diabetes had similar or higher rates. 

Commenting on the high rate of medical and psychiatric issues in individuals with ASD, Davignon and colleagues conclude, “Although more research is needed to identify the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that contribute to this excess burden, there is a pressing need for all clinicians, particularly general pediatricians and adult physicians, to approach ASD as a chronic health condition requiring regular follow-up and routine screening and treatment of medical and psychiatric issues, as is the standard of care for other chronic medical conditions.”


“Psychiatric and medical conditions in transition-aged individuals with ASD,” Meghan N. Davignon, Yinge Qian, Maria Massolo, and Lisa A. Croen, Pediatrics, Vol. 141, No. s4, April 2018 (online). Address: Meghan N. Davignon, Kaiser Roseville Medical Center, 1600 Eureka Rd, Building C, Roseville, CA 95661,  [email protected].