Maternal Migraine and the Colicky Baby: New Research Suggests a Link

Maternal Migraine and the Colicky Baby: New Research Suggests a Link

The relationship between migraine and childhood periodic syndromes, including cyclical vomiting syndrome, abdominal migraine, and benign paroxysmal vertigo, has long been acknowledged, and such syndromes are often seen as precursors of migraine in young children.[1, 2] This connection has led some researchers to suspect that the pain and crying associated with colic may be a type of age-specific expression of migraine in genetically predisposed infants. Indeed, results from one case control study has supported this association, demonstrating an increased likelihood of infantile colic in children with migraine.[3]

Results from a new study led by Amy Gelfand, MD, a child neurologist at the University of California Headache Center in San Francisco, lends further support to the connection between colic and migraine.[4] The study found that mothers with a history of migraine were more than 2.5 times as likely to have a baby who suffered from colic (excessive crying in an otherwise healthy infant) as those without a history of migraine.


As part of the study, Dr. Gelfand and her colleagues gathered data on 154 mothers and their infants, using a questionnaire developed based on standard criteria for colic. They found that colic affected 29% of babies whose mothers were positive for a history of migraine compared with 11% of babies whose mothers were negative for a history migraine. Infants with mothers who suffered from migraine had a significantly greater likelihood of experiencing colic than those whose mothers had no history of migraine (prevalence ratio: 2.6 [95% CI: 1.2 to 5.5]; P=0.02).

These findings indicate that the risk for colic is higher among infants of mothers with migraine and suggest that these colicky infants may also face a higher risk for developing migraine as they grow older. Dr. Gelfand, who will present results from the study at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in New Orleans (April 21—28), noted: “Since migraine is a highly genetic disorder, our study suggests that infant colic may be an early sign that a child may be predisposed toward migraine headache later in life. Colic may be another example of a childhood periodic syndrome, which is often a precursor to migraine.”

This research has implications for improving migraine detection in young patients, as well as for increasing our understanding of how migraine manifests across the lifespan. “This may be helpful in more accurately identifying children who have childhood periodic syndromes by asking about a history of infant colic,” Dr. Gelfand noted, “In addition, this study helps to advance our understanding about the different expressions of migraine across a person’s lifetime.”

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