Sleep Care

Brain Stem Abnormalities in SIDS Infants

Sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is defined as the unexplained death, usually during sleep of a seemingly healthy baby. While researchers are unable to find an exact cause, certain sleeping habits can make place them at a higher risk. For example, ensure your child lies on his or her back while sleeping and only have a firm mattress in the crib; no blankets, pillows, or even toys. SIDS is thought to be connected to an abnormality in the child’s brain that not only controls breathing but also arousal while sleeping. Recently a neuropathologist at Boston Children’s Hospital has conducted more research into SIDS and why it occurs. Hannah Kinney, MD has been able to provide a link between underlying abnormalities in the brain and sudden infant death syndrome. Sleeping-BabyIn the study Dr. Kinney examined the cases of 71 infants who died from SIDS between the dates of 1997 and 2008. These cases had brainstem samples available for Dr. Kinney and her colleagues

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deceased infants was then broken into two groups according to sleep environment; one group of those who likely died due to asphyxia and those who did not. Of the 71 total infants, 35 deaths were found to possibly have been related to asphyxia and 15 not likely related to asphyxia. Further, brain abnormalities involving serotonin (a neurotransmitter that regulates

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sleep in the body) and GABA receptors (found in the central nervous system) were found in both these groups. These findings proved any environmental risk to be an even higher danger for those children with brain abnormalities. These GABA and serotonin abnormalities can cause many disruptions to the body and its numerous functions such as sleeping, heart rate, breathing, and even body temperature control due to the huge involvement of them in the nervous system. Kinney and her researchers believe that the intake of too much carbon dioxide and/or not breathing in sufficient amounts of oxygen are caused by these abnormalities affecting an infant’s function to arouse while sleeping. These environmental risks can

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be controlled, however. Often babies are found sleeping face down in a pillow. Obviously this increases the risk of asphyxia. Kinney stated, “Even the infants dying in a potentially asphyxia-generating situation had an underlying brainstem abnormality that likely made them vulnerable to sudden death if there was any degree of asphyxia.” She also went on to say, “Certainly, there are compromised sleeping environments that can cause any baby to die, such as entrapment in a crib, but if it’s just sleeping face down, the baby who dies may have underlying brainstem vulnerability.”

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