"It's not your fault": Researchers now understand why SIDS occurs
Until now, the cause of SIDS has remained largely unknown
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) accounts for about 37% of sudden unexpected infant deaths a year in the U.S.
This week, researchers from The Children's Hospital Westmead in Sydney have released a study that confirms for the first time exactly how these tragic deaths occur.
SIDS, which refers to the unexplained death of an infant, usually occurs while the child is sleeping. The medical community have long since suspected that the phenomenon could be caused by a defect in the part of the brain that controls arousal from sleep and breathing, i.e. if the infant stops breathing for any reason during sleep, the defect would prevent the child from reacting and waking up.
The researchers were able to confirm this theory by analysing dried blood samples taken from newborns who sadly died from SIDS. Each sample was compared with blood taken from healthy babies and they found the activity of the enzyme butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) was significantly lower in babies who died of SIDS.
BChE plays a major role in the brain’s arousal pathway, explaining why SIDS typically occurs during sleep.
"These families can now live with the knowledge that this was not their fault."
Safe sleep practices such as laying babies on their backs, not letting them overheat and keeping all toys and blankets out of the crib are still important for protecting infants, but many children whose parents took every precaution still died from SIDS, may have been left wondering if they could have prevented their baby’s death.
Dr. Carmel Harrington, the lead researcher for the study has said: "These families can now live with the knowledge that this was not their fault."
The hope is that this research will allow scientists to develop methods of identifying future risk and, eventually, a preventative cure: “This finding represents the possibility for the identification of infants at risk for SIDS infants prior to death and opens new avenues for future research into specific interventions.”
Satisfied that they now understand the cause more, the researchers will now work on a screening test to identify babies who are at risk for SIDS.