Recent research in the field of neurology has potentially identified a cause for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), offering new insights into this tragic phenomenon.
According to a study published in the journal Neurology, brief seizures accompanied by muscle convulsions might be a key factor in these mysterious deaths, which affect thousands of families in the United States annually.
“Our study, although small, offers the first direct evidence that seizures may be responsible for some sudden deaths in children, which are usually unwitnessed during sleep,” said Dr. Laura Gould, the lead researcher from NYU Langone.
SIDS, often referred to as “crib death,” predominantly affects infants younger than six months and typically occurs during sleep. In older children, similar unexplained deaths are categorized as sudden unexplained death in children (SUDC).
Gould, who established the SUDC Registry and Research Collaborative at NYU Langone, following the loss of her 15-month-old daughter Maria to SUDC in 1997, led a team that studied over 300 SUDC cases. This study involved examining medical records and video recordings of sleeping babies, focusing on seven cases where seizures were likely the cause of death.
The footage revealed that the convulsions lasted less than 60 seconds, occurring within 30 minutes of the child’s death.
“Convulsive seizures may be the smoking gun that medical science has been looking for to understand why these children die,” stated Dr. Orrin Devinsky, a senior investigator and neurologist who co-founded the registry with Gould.
The study also provides insights into other deaths, including those from SIDS and epilepsy. Previous scientific observations had noted a link between SUDC and seizures, particularly febrile seizures (seizures accompanied by fever), which significantly increase the risk of sudden and unexpected death.
The NYU team observed signs of mild infections in several children but lacked data to confirm if fevers triggered the deaths. “If we can figure out the children at risk, maybe we can change their outcome,” Gould told NBC News.
Further research is necessary to fully understand how seizures can lead to death. This breakthrough follows another significant discovery where low levels of a blood enzyme, butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), were linked to SIDS. BChE is crucial in the waking process.
“These families can now live with the knowledge that this was not their fault,” said Dr. Carmel Harrington, lead researcher of the BChE study, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Association.
Physicians have traditionally advised parents to lay babies on their backs to sleep and keep cribs clear of excess toys or covers to prevent overheating or accidental strangulation. However, these measures could not guarantee safety, leaving many questions unanswered until now.
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