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Infantile colic seems to be a precursor or an early manifestation of migraine headaches in children. A new European study published in the journal JAMA supports an earlier American study mentioned in one of my previous blogs. This European study involved 208 children who were diagnosed with migraine at emergency departments found that 73% of them had a history of colic in infancy, compared with 27% of a control group of children. History of being colicky was as common in children and teens who suffered from both migraine with and without aura.

This study suggests that many colicky babies whose colic does not respond to any treatment directed at their digestive system may be suffering from migraine headaches. Some of these children may develop cyclic vomiting as they get older and then go on to have typical migraine headaches.

The researchers at two Italian and one French hospital did a second study involving 120 children with tension-type headaches. Only 35% of these children had a history of infantile colic, confirming that it is not any headache, but specifically migraine that is associated with infantile colic. Migraines are very common in children. Before puberty, about 6% of boys and girls suffer from migraines. After puberty, boys remain at 6% and the incidence of migraines goes upt o 18% in girls.

One of the authors of the study suggested that migraine medications might be effective for colicky babies, although this would require a controlled study. Such studies in infants are difficult to perform because of the unknown potential side effects, which understandably will lead to parent anxiety. However, the colic is painful and we know that pain even in infancy leads to harmful changes in brain chemicals and brain structure. A colicky baby also causes high stress for the parents.

In my practice, I’ve encountered many children with episodic and chronic migraines whose parents report infantile colic that gradually transformed into a typical migraine. So, unfortunately, migraine can start even before a child can begin to speak.

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Infant colic appears to be more common in babies whose mothers suffers from migraines, according to a just published study by researchers at UCSF. This study looked at 154 infant-mother pairs and discovered that the risk of colic increases 2.6 times if mother suffers from migraines. Dr. Amy Gelfand, the pediatric neurologist who was the lead author concluded that infant colic could be the earliest manifestation of migraine headaches. We also know that some people who suffer from migraines report being told by their parents that as infants they had brief attacks of vomiting associated with paleness which seemingly were not related to food intake. This study confirms the old suspicion that migraines can begin from infancy. While we have many effective therapies, the true cure of migraines will come from genetic therapies, which unfortunately are decades away.

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