Research Further Links Brainstem Abnormality to SIDS
Reinforcement of Safe Sleep Practices Critical to Saving Lives
Investigators at Boston Children’s Hospital have found further evidence linking Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) to underlying abnormalities in babies’ brainstems. These abnormalities impair parts of the brainstem that control breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and temperature during sleep; preventing sleeping babies from waking when they re-breathe too much carbon dioxide (exhaled air that lacks oxygen) or become overheated.
The focus of this study included re-examining earlier data and grouping the infants according to sleep environments – those considered both safe and unsafe based on death-scene investigation reports. In the end, they reviewed 15 cases where the baby was considered to be in a safe environment, 35 cases where the baby was considered not to be in a safe environment and 9 controls, babies who clearly died of other causes. While the new research needs to be replicated, it is significant because it found that babies who die of SIDS, whether or not they were in safe or unsafe sleep environments, all had similar abnormalities in their brainstems.
However, Dr. Hannah Kinney, lead investigator on the project, warns that this requires more vigilance to safe sleep practices for parents, not less. While some babies may be vulnerable to SIDS no matter what, in many cases being put to sleep in an unsafe environment could play a role in triggering it.
Kinney, who has been researching SIDS for more than 20 years, said her team is currently studying possible ways to detect and treat this brainstem abnormality, with hopes that one day SIDS will be a thing of the past.