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Symptoms and Signs of Colic

Doctor's Notes on Colic

Colic in infants refers to "excessive" crying lasting more than three hours a day, more than three days per week, and for more than three consecutive weeks. Children with colic are otherwise healthy. Crying from colic often starts at about 2 weeks of age, hits a maximum in intensity at about 6-8 weeks of age, and gradually diminishes and goes away by 16 weeks of age.

Symptoms of colic usually begin suddenly and include crying symptoms that increase into the late evening and night. Other symptoms and behaviors that may accompany colic include arching the back, extending the legs, clenching the fists, reddening of the face, belching or spitting up excessively after feeding, passing gas, and difficulty passing stools. A less intense form of colic may be referred to as "nighttime fussiness," but babies with colic are often more inconsolable for longer periods of time than those experiencing nighttime fussiness.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Colic Symptoms

Crying usually begins suddenly. Most parents report their infant's crying symptoms build to a crescendo during late evening and into the night. For unknown reasons, the baby's cessation of symptoms often ends as abruptly as they start. Colicky babies may have a host of behaviors (none of which are only limited to an episode of colic). These include

  • arching the back;
  • extending the legs;
  • clenching the fists;
  • reddening of the face;
  • belching or spitting up excessively after feeding, which may relieve symptoms;
  • passing gas; and
  • having difficulty passing stools.

Many parents will notice that their infant seems to experience a less intense form of colic. Pediatricians refer to this as "nighttime fussiness," The onset, peak, and resolution of symptoms are the same as colic. Babies with colic, however, seem more inconsolable for longer periods of time than those experiencing nighttime fussiness. Parents with colicky children find no trick to intercede in their child's frustration. Parents with nighttime fussiness children find themselves helping their infant gain control of their frustrations only to have symptoms surge and "we're right back where we started from!"

Colic Causes

The proposed causes of colic tend to focus on the immaturity of the child's intestinal tract and/or nervous system. Colic is an equal opportunity tormentor. Symptoms show no predilection with respect to racial, ethnic, socioeconomic group, or gender. While much research has been focused on the topic, no consistent explanation as to cause has yet been defined. Rather, most specialists hypothesize the cause to be multifactorial -- a combination of genetic predisposition, neurodevelopmental immaturity, and possibly influenced by behavioral and social/cultural aspects.

10 Tips to Soothe Your Crying or Colicky Baby Slideshow

 10 Tips to Soothe Your Crying or Colicky Baby Slideshow

To you, swaddling might feel like being in a straitjacket. But to a crying, fussy baby, it’s like being back in the womb. How tight do you wrap this baby burrito? Snug enough so she can’t wriggle her arms and legs free.

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

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