Could colic be an early form of migraine? Quite possibly, according to an increasing body of evidence. The latest research, presented at the American Headache Society conference in June, reviewed published studies that either investigated migraine and colic specifically or had collected data on migraine and collect as part of other research.
This meta-analysis focused primarily on three studies and 891 participants in total. In one, infants whose mothers had migraine were 2.6 times more likely to experience colic than those with non-migraineur mothers. Another found that kids or teenagers who had migraine were 6.6 times more to have had colic than those without a later diagnosis of migraine. The third had similar findings to the second.
Colic is harrowing for parents. To be diagnosed with colic, a baby has to cry for at least three hours a day at least three days a week for three or more weeks. According to Amy Gelfand, MD, the lead researcher, 2.2% of parents of one-month-olds with colic said they had shaken, slapped or smothered their child to get them to stop crying. By the time a child with colic reaches six months old, 5.6% of parents admit to doing so.
Obviously, we can’t know what symptoms an infant experiences. There is some comfort in knowing that children often have migraine attacks without head pain and, for those who do have head pain, it generally lasts a much shorter time than for adults. Basically, many of us “grow into” the head pain that is the hallmark symptom of migraine. Nausea, digestive issues, sense hypersensitivity and autonomic symptoms aren’t minor, but at least there’s a decent chance most infants don’t have the excruciating head pain that adults get with migraine attacks.
Reading this research, I’m deluged by a variety of thoughts and questions. Here’s some of what’s running through my mind:
- This research is fascinating!
- If this research holds, it would be a tremendous relief for parents to finally have an explanation (that hopefully leads to a treatment) for colic.
- Imagining an infant having a migraine attack is heartbreaking.
- How awful that migraine attacks could begin in the earliest weeks of life.
- What happens between the time colic resolves and a child starts having identifiable migraine attacks? Do they still experience symptoms?
- Is there any connection between colic and prevalence of chronic migraine?
- Colic is widely regarded as awful for infants and their parents. If the general public equates colic with migraine, might they have more empathy for migraineurs?
- Is it selfish and unfair to hope infants with colic will reduce the stigma of migraine? (Though reducing the stigma would benefit those infants throughout their lifetime with migraine.)
I’m sure I’m not the only one with tons of questions and expect lots more research on the topic in coming years.
Want to read more? Medscape has a good overview of the research and conference presentation: Infant Colic May Be Early Migraine.