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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Autism: "To be [related], or not to be"


Each year, more and more children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In fact, CDC estimates have increased to report the proportion of individuals with autism is 15% (a staggering 1 in 59 vs. the previous estimate of 1 in 68). As we learn more about ASD and are able to do more widespread diagnoses, there have been some fascinating findings related to who is more susceptible to ASD. An article published by Spectrum News states that a study with origins in Denmark indicates that people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are more likely to have a child with ASD than men and women who are not diagnosed with RA. This novel finding suggests that there may be a shared genetic history between autism and arthritis. Not only could this provide a genetic marker for ASD, but allow us to screen for ASD at much younger ages. Early diagnosis can be the key for many individuals to reach their full potential.

If genetic factors are key, then the specifics on which parent has RA may not be that relevant in regards to the increase in likelihood of having a child with ASD (unlike sex-linked traits for example). However, if factors related to the uterus are more important, then the mother of a child with ASD may have played a large role in regards to the increase in risk of autism due to ASD. To add on, Dr. Guastella, a professor at the University of Sydney, says that environmental factors may play an imperative role as well.


This paper utilizes a consortium of experts when exploring the frontier of ASD research related to RA. For example, Rom, a postdoctoral researcher at the Copenhagen University Hospital, was asked about her views on the possible role of intrauterine factors along with RA in regards to determining the risk of autism. However, Spectrum News also asked individuals such as Dr. Guastella who were not a part of the original study in regards to RA and autism directly; this may affect the validity of the news article’s argument while also contributing to possible bias.

Future Directions

There were certain constraints as part of the original study. For example, there were less than 10 children who have mothers that actually were diagnosed with RA prior to the birth of the child. A study should have a sample size of at least 30 to have statistical significance. Additionally, the study only used patients from a small cohort of European citizens. We know that diagnosis criteria can vary across countries so it would be interesting to understand if the ASD-RA link holds true beyond the EU.

Article Reviewed

Deweerdt, S. (2017, November 16). Study bolsters genetic link between arthritis, autism. Spectrum News.


CDC increases estimate of autism’s prevalence by 15 percent, to 1 in 59 children. (2018, April 26). Autism Speaks.

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