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Early Hum Dev. 2001 Feb;61(1):1-43.

Infant stress and sleep deprivation as an aetiological basis for the sudden infant death syndrome.

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Hospital Particular do Algarve, Alvor, Algarve, Portugal.


SIDS is almost invariably sleep-related. Viable syndrome aetiology must be compatible with its many epidemiologically diverse risk factors, each of which directly or indirectly associates with the creation of psychological and/or physiological infant stress, and the subsequent disruption of normal, contented sleep. During essential deep 'rebound' recovery sleep, arousal ability and upper airway muscle tone decrease further to that in normal sleep, with subsequent upper airway obstruction. When stress impact causes sufficient sleep disruption and physiological fatigue, a failure to arouse and so restore sufficient tone to overcome such obstruction results in sudden, unexpected death. SIDS has therefore many causes which share a final lethal mechanical pathway. Evidence is presented for obstructive apnoea during sleep as being the primary syndrome death mode, for sleep disruption, reduced arousal ability, and infant stress in SIDS, and for risk factor association with the creation of this stress. Specific infant vulnerability in the first 6 months of life to stress predominantly related to total dependency on a carer for gratification of need, and to obstructive sleep apnoea due to normal anatomical, physical, and respiratory immaturity, including rapid physiological fatigue, and peaks in sleep and thermal stress vulnerability, are discussed. Further reasons for the limited age period of SIDS, and for reduced neonatal risk, are given. Prone sleeping risk can relate to positional airway obstruction during normal sleep without prior infant stress. Much of SIDS aetiology appears to concern factors related to socio-economic deprivation and subsequent sub-optimal infant care.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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