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Could colic in childhood be a harbinger of migraines?

A new study has found that women who suffer from migraines are more likely to have children with colic, compared with mothers who don't get the headaches. The researchers speculate that colic may be an early manifestation of migraines in infants who have inherited the debilitating trait from their moms.

"Despite the fact that colic has been studied for decades, the truth is that we don't really know why these babies are crying so much," said the lead researcher, Amy Gelfand, a pediatric neurologist with the headache centre at the University of California, San Francisco.

Various theories have been put forward to explain colic, which is essentially repeated bouts of inconsolable crying that last for hours in an otherwise healthy child. Some doctors have suggested it results from gastrointestinal distress. Others think the condition arises when the child is having problems bonding with the parents.

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"But there has been nothing definitive," Dr. Gelfand noted.

So Dr. Gelfand and her colleagues decided to explore a possible connection between migraines and colic, following up on a decade-old retrospective study that indicated some young children with migraines reportedly had colic as babies.

The researchers surveyed 154 new mothers whose infants were undergoing routine checkups at the two-month mark – the age when colicky crying typically peaks. The mothers were asked about the crying patterns of their babies and their own history of migraines. The results revealed that migraine sufferers were more than twice as likely to have a colicky infant. In particular, 29 per cent of infants whose mother had migraines had colic, compared to 11 per cent of babies whose mothers did not have migraines.

"This is a very interesting preliminary finding that we are eager to study further," said Dr. Gelfand. She plans to present the survey results next April at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in New Orleans.

Full-blown migraine headaches tend to emerge as a genetically prone individual grows older. But the researchers suspect colicky babies are already having some migraine symptoms, such as a heightened sensitivity to light and sound. In other words, colicky kids may be overly sensitive to stimuli in their environment. After the warm, dark, insular experience of the womb, the outside world may seem like an especially disturbing place.

"Colicky crying tends to occur in the late afternoon and the evening," said Dr. Gelfand. "I imagine these babies have been experiencing a lot of stimulation all day long and they are letting off some steam or reached the point where it is distressing them."

In the next phase of their work, the researchers hope to follow a large group of children – some with colic and some without – over several years to see who among them eventually get migraines.

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If their hunch is correct – and colic is an early symptom of migraines – the researcher's finding may lead to ways of turning off the flood of tears. For instance, reducing stimulation may result in fewer colicky outbursts.

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