Physical health conditions in autism


People with autism may be more likely to experience poorer physical health than other people. We aimed to identify what is and what is not known about physical health conditions experienced by people with autism.

What we did

We conducted an umbrella systematic review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses on physical conditions in people with autism. Five databases were searched for prospective articles. We used strict inclusion/exclusion criteria for paper selection. Two authors reviewed all papers for eligibility and assessed quality of included articles.

What we found

24/5,552 retrieved articles were included, 15 on children, 1 on adults, 8 on children and adults. Whilst the quality of included reviews was good, most reported several limitations and considerable differences between studies they included. We also found that physical conditions are common in people with autism, and some are more prevalent than in the general population, i.e. sleep problems, epilepsy, sensory impairments, atopy (allergic diseases), autoimmune disorders, and obesity. Asthma is not. However, there are substantial gaps in the evidence base. Fewer studies have been undertaken on other conditions, and some findings are inconsistent.

What this means

Physical conditions occur more commonly in people with autism, but the evidence base is slim, and more research is needed. Some conditions can add complexity to care if clinicians are unaware, e.g. sensory impairments, given the communication needs of people with autism. Other conditions, for example obesity, can lead to an array of other conditions, disadvantages and premature death. It is essential that potentially modifiable physical conditions are identified to ensure people with autism achieve their best outcomes. Increasing clinicians’ awareness about this is important to aid in assessments and differential diagnoses, and to improve healthcare.

For more information, please contact Ewelina Rydzewska.

This research is published in full in The British Journal of Psychiatry and is available here.

This page was last updated on 6th July 2021.