For a long time, doctors and mothers alike have wondered what causes colic in young babies. Baby colic is defined as episodes of crying for more than three hours a day, for more than three days a week for three-week duration in an otherwise healthy child between the ages of two weeks and four months. The cause of colic is generally unknown. Fewer than 5 per cent of infants who cry excessively turn out to have an underlying disease.
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Colic has previously been believed to be related to intestinal causes such as gas pains, psychological and social factors, and exposure to cigarette smoke.
In a newly published study however, there is growing evidence that infant colic is a type of migraine headache. The results of a new analysis of many studies linking the two conditions suggest that “colic is an age-sensitive phenotype of migraine,” according to lead researcher Amy Gelfand, MD, assistant professor, Clinical Neurology and Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco.
Getting a better handle on the association between infant colic and migraine could help put to rest the oft-repeated theory that colic has something to do with feeding and gastrointestinal disorders, Dr. Gelfand said.
Infant colic can be extremely stressful for parents.
According to research cited by Dr. Gelfand, 2.2 per cent of parents with month-old babies admitted to shaking, slapping, or smothering their child to stop the crying. By the sixth month, 5.6 per cent of parents confessed to have tried one of these “dangerous techniques.”
“I don’t think that 5.6 per cent of parents are horrible people; it just says that parents are human and by the time their baby is six weeks old, they are really tired, and feel at the end of their rope,” said Dr. Gelfand.
In an older study in 2012, Dr. Gelfand found that mothers with migraine are more than twice as likely as those without to have an infant with colic. “Infants that inherit migraine genes may be more sensitive to normal stimuli and express that sensitivity as colicky crying,” Dr. Amy Gelfand is quoted to have told Medscape Medical News.
“This association, if it proves to be robust in future studies, could help mothers prepare for the possibility of having a colicky infant,” she explained, “and give them some comfort and understanding as to why their baby is crying so much.”
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