The Three Main Causes Of Early Death In Autism
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The Three Main Causes Of Early Death In Autism

A new study from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden recently published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, revealed that the risk of premature death is about 2.5 times higher for people with autism spectrum disorder than for the rest of the population. The mean age of death for someone with autism is 54 compared with 70 for the general population. For people with autism and a learning disability, the mean age drops to 40.

Three Main Causes Of Early Death in Autism

#1 Epilepsy: For those with autism and a learning disability, epilepsy is the leading cause of premature death. The Epilepsy Society has started an “Avoidable Deaths” campaign and sites a major national clinical audit that found that 39% of deaths from epilepsy could have been avoided. Prevention measures include: prevention and control with lifestyle changes and medications, knowledge and education of those around you so they can help minimize risk during and after a seizure, and seizure management and preparation if you have any warning signs like halos etc…

#2 Suicide: Sadly, for  those who don’t have a learning disability, the leading cause of early death is suicide. Dr. Hirvikoski, lead researcher of this study, says we need to promote further research in this long-neglected field. She also emphasizes that “we do not need to wait” to act on the findings: her clinic has already taken steps to identify suicide risks and take preventive measures. Dr. Hirvakoski says that for patients with ASD who don’t have a learning disability, “clinical guidelines for suicidal patients must be followed”.

#3 Heart Problems and Cancer: People with autism are also are a greater risk for heart problems and cancers. There is already a strong link between epilepsy and heart disease, but as yet no research has suggested that the same link applies to ASD. It is still not clear if people with autism are more susceptible to these illnesses, or if there is a lack of awareness of these problems among health professionals resulting in delays and inadequacies in diagnosis and treatment.

Altogether this study has highlighted that we still need to learn so much more about ASD in order to insure the best quality of life for our loved ones on the spectrum. John Spiers, the Chief Executive for a national Autism charity in the UK, Autistica, has stated that the foundation is raising 10 million dollars towards looking into this discrepancy. In a perfect summation of this new research he said:

“This new research confirms the true scale of the hidden mortality crisis in autism…The inequality in outcomes for autistic people shown in this data is shameful. We cannot accept a situation where many autistic people will never see their 40th birthday.”

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  1. Joshua says:

    My name is Joshua, 33 years old now. Diagnosed with Aspergers, and learning disabilities. I make it my life goal to not become a statistic, and change boundaries people build on themselves and their dreams. In highschool careers class, we did a little statistic where 80% of the students raised there hands up that they wanted and/or planned for post secondary education. From that class total he then told everybody but 2 of you drop your hands and said, “thats how many will of you will go and finish graduating”. (statistically at that time). Would you know it, I love math and sciences. of these areas electrical was the weakest in that area, and now I am a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering. No debts and paid with money made and saved during the summer. At a 18 hour drive from home I had to learn to live self sufficient and how doing so on my own operates. If you truely make an effort, anything is possible, and now i finally understand a topic i was confused in (which was my personal goal out of it as something I could not comprehend was not something I could leave unsolved). lets see what that 40 year (mean average?) will be in 47 years from now.

    • Joshua, thank you for taking the time to write and share your inspirational story. You worked very hard to achieve all that you have and I congratulate you. It does take effort to be successful. I wish you continued success in your future endeavors.

  2. Ashley says:

    My youngest brother passed away 05/17/2019. He had Autism as well and was only 16 years old. The autopsy revealed that he had Coronary Artery Disease. He was at field day at school a special school for children with Autism and he went into a seizure 3 times. He was responsive on the way to the hospital but as soon as they arrived he went into Cardiac Arrest. My heart is still very broken and this seems like a nightmare that I just can’t wake up from. My heart goes out to all who have lost loved ones especially those who were on the Autism Spectrum. I believe that more should be done to help those with Autism express health concerns. We had no idea that he had CAD we were familiar with his epilepsy as I held him while he had his first seizure at 12 months old but medication controlled that. The autopsy report also stated that he didnt die from the seizure but the seizure could have been a result of oxygen not getting to his brain due to his blockage in his heart. For all who read this if your loved ones have similar symptoms please check into this. I would have given my own life and more so he could live. May you rest in peace my sweet angel. RIP Adrien

    • Ashley, your story about your brother broke my heart. What a loss for you and your family! The expression of health concerns by people with autism is so complex because it involves the interoceptive sense to be able to interpret what is going on in your body and this is often impaired in the autistic population. The international group Autistica is researching how to improve health outcomes in a number of areas for people with ASD. https://www.autistica.org.uk/our-research/research-projects Often it is the parents that have to advocate for tests to be done on a suspected health issue. I travelled a long and difficult road for my son when he began to lose mobility at the age of 15. My concerns were ignored until my son lost 30 pounds and could hardly walk anymore. I still go to specialist appointments where they ask him to rate his pain on a scale of 1 to 10. I always say run some blood work or take an x-ray if we need to get definitive answers.

      Keep telling your story, Ashley, because the public needs to hear how these tragedies happen in order to elicit change and further the medical profession’s understanding.

  3. Ella says:

    I’m autistic and I can tell when people r lying & telling the truth. I also sense people’s energies I get sensory overload like from non cotton clothes. I’m adorn to violence even in tv shows. I don’t have epilepsy. I’m an introvert as well. What’s my chance of dying

  4. Anonee says:

    I often don’t recognize when I am hungry or have to use the restroom. How can I recognize the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke if I feel pain and sensations differently?

  5. Noreen Albright says:

    I feel this article is wrong. I would say their lives are cut shorter due to: 1. Drowning (as in toddlers) 2. accidents (falling from balcony/window/runover) due to low safety awareness 3. asthma

    • Noreen, the research tells us otherwise. The Finnish team that did this research presented compelling evidence at the Autism Europe Conference in 2016 to support their findings.

  6. Janae Linder says:

    I too suffer from autism, and I get sensory overload that I sometimes shutdown. I was never accepted for who I am as a kid growing up. I now suffer from what I believe to be ptsd caused by drs mistreatment. It’s left be disillusioned and distrustful towards others.

  7. Tina lekavich says:

    I. Lost my daughter last march. I believe she died due to her epilepsy. She was only 31. If you know of a. Grief support group could you let me know.

    • Dear Tina,

      I am so sorry for your heartbreaking loss. Could you let me know what area of the world you live in (city and country) I will see what I can find out for you? I really want to help you if I can.

  8. Meggie says:

    I had my first heart attack in 2016. Odds aren’t looking great for me

  9. Anne says:

    It sounds like stress he may just need complete bed rest for a while hope he improves soon….

  10. Vanessa Flores says:

    Hello. My Godson with autism had a heart attack in school. When the paramedics arrived he was flat lined and they brought him back but he is now in the hospital with his brain inflamed and  they have no idea what caused the heart failure. Of course the brain inflammation is due to no oxygen to his little brain. He has been in the Long Beach Children’s hospital 3 weeks now and he has to be sedated to calm down and not  move so much. Doctors claim he can’t see anything but we see he opens his eyes but is too tired and just keeps them closed. He has had a fever all week now and they say they can’t give him antibiotics because they don’t know what is causing the fever. Everything has been checked for any infection and nothing. They discarded its associated with Autism but is it really? Has anyone heard of anything like this before? Please anyone??

  11. Bindi says:

    person with autism are at greater risk of heart related problems and cancer , epilepsy as i learned about autism in classroom setting. Person with epilepsy can be managed with medication, observing warning signs. I came to know about one new thing that suicide is leading cause of early death in autism and w e have to identify suicide risks and take preventive measures. furthermore, clinical guidelines for suicide patients helps to reduce suicide risks. Thank you for sharing your information.

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