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Colic Causes and Treatment

Updated on February 14, 2010

Colic is a sudden attack of severe pain, usually in the abdomen. The pain is usually a gripping or cramping sensation that increases gradually, reaches a peak, and then rapidly fades. An attack may last only a few seconds, or it may persist for hours or days.

Usually, colic is caused by an obstruction of one of the hollow tubes in the body, such as the intestine, the ducts in the gallbladder, or the ureters, the tubes leading from the kidney to the bladder. Normally the muscles in the walls of these tubes contract mildly. When the tubes are blocked, the muscles contract more strongly in an attempt to push by the obstruction. The strong muscular contractions create the pain in the abdomen.

Various other disorders that stimulate or irritate the muscular walls can also cause colic. Intestinal colic, for example, may result from a virus or bacteria infection, gas, or irritating foods. In some cases, colic may be caused by emotional factors. Intestinal colic is particularly common in infants. It is caused by difficulty in digesting milk or by drinking too fast so that relatively large amounts of air are swallowed with the milk.


The treatment of colic depends on the condition that causes it. The symptoms can be relieved with drugs that decrease the muscular contractions and with medicines that ease the pain.

This naturally depends on the causes. Colic is always a symptom, not a disease. In ordinary cases of colic due to irritants, an efficacious purge is necessary to clear out the bowel. A glass of hot water with a few drops of oil of peppermint and hot fomentations, or a linseed poultice, help to relieve the pain. Frequently a soap-and-water enema affords rapid relief. Repeated attacks of colic, which do not yield to these measures, necessitate the calling in of a doctor, and home treatment should not be persisted in with such cases. In children, lime water or dill water often helps to relieve the pain.

Colic may also arise in the gall bladder, the stomach, and the kidneys.


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