A recent scientific breakthrough may allow doctors to evaluate newborns for their risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) before it’s too late.
SIDS is defined as the unexplained death of a baby, almost always when they are asleep. It is the biggest fear that parents have and those that have experienced it are left with broken hearts and an empty crib.
It’s absolutely devastating. And what makes it worse is that the cause is unknown, and while there are many tips for preventing SIDS, it’s still happening and any family is at risk for SIDS. Some of the tips even contradict each other and make it really hard for parents to figure out how to keep their babies safe from the thief that comes in the night.
Hopefully, that all changes soon. The Daily Mail reports that doctors in Australia have discovered that babies who die from SIDS have a lower level of a specific protein in their brain called Orexin. This study may reduce the risk of SIDS in the future.
Scientists believe that Orexin is designed to wake babies when they are deprived of oxygen, reducing the risk of SIDS. The 11-year study studied 46 babies who passed away from SIDS and other non-related SIDS causes.
Out of the 46, twenty-seven of the babies were determined to have passed away from SIDS. The protein Orexin is considered a waking-up protein that tells the baby to turn over if they aren’t getting enough oxygen to prevent the risk of SIDS. Babies who suffer from SIDS had up to 21 percent less of this important protein in their brains. So instead of Orexin telling the baby to roll over or otherwise adjust to get more oxygen, it doesn’t alert them at all. And these babies simply never wake up.
Dr. Rita Machaalani is the manager of the sleep unit in the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney. She said that these important findings could lead to a nasal spray that can help increase the levels of Orexin in infants.
She noted, “For many of the families, particularly those who follow all the guidelines … this sort of finding shows there is something wrong with their child, that it is not something they did, and that must give them a bit of comfort.”
Scientists are also hopeful that this new finding will lead to a screening test so doctors can test all babies for lower levels of the protein and advise parents accordingly to reduce the risk of SIDS.
Almost 3,500 infants die each year in the United States from SIDS, so this study could be life-changing to many families for years to come.
But it’s important to be cautious.
Francine Bates, the chief executive of The Lullaby Trust, a sudden infant death charity, is urging caution. She said the study included a small sample, so “at this stage we therefore remain cautious to the suggestion that this is a ‘breakthrough’ and a blood screening test is imminent.”
Time will tell if these findings lead to a screening test that could save thousands of lives or if it will lead to the creation of a nasal spray or some other form of treatment to increase Orexin levels in the brain.
For now, parents can only follow the suggestions of safe sleep with their infant, which includes sleeping in the same room with your baby, not bed sharing, not smoking around the infant or during pregnancy, and maintaining a comfortable room temperature to prevent your baby from getting too warm.
What do you think about these new findings and the potential for a SIDS screening test and maybe even preventative care in the future? Will this study make a difference or will we continue to know very little about the risk of SIDS?
[Featured Image by Diana Taliun/Shutterstock]