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Study Sheds Light on Preemies' Higher SIDS Risk
Date:12/13/2011

By Denise Mann
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Babies who are born prematurely are known to be at higher risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and new research now suggests that's because their underdeveloped nervous systems can't control drops in blood pressure as needed during sleep.

SIDS is the sudden, unexpected death of an apparently healthy baby. The national Back-to-Sleep campaign, which encourages parents to place infants on their backs to sleep, has dramatically reduced the prevalence of SIDS. Still, more than 2,300 babies aged 1 month to 1 year die from SIDS in the United States each year, according to First Candle, a nonprofit group that raises awareness about SIDS.

In this latest study, Australian researchers conducted sleep testing on 25 preemies who were born at 28 to 32 weeks and 31 infants who were born full-term (between 38 and 42 weeks). They found that the baroreflex -- the system that regulates blood pressure -- does not mature as quickly in babies who are born too early. As a result, the baroreflex may not be able to compensate as quickly when there is a drop in blood pressure.

"Infants die during sleep because they fail to respond appropriately to a life-threatening situation such as a fall in blood pressure," explained study author Dr. Rosemary Horne, deputy director at the Ritchie Centre at the Monash Institute of Medical Research in Victoria, Australia.

Normally, "if there is a fall in blood pressure, heart rate will increase and the blood vessels will constrict to raise blood pressure," she said. "Conversely, if there is a surge in blood pressure, heart rate will fall and the blood vessels dilate to reduce blood pressure again."

But, this mechanism may not kick in as quickly in preemies, she said. There is no way to speed the maturity of this mechanism, but there are other things parents can do to help lower a premature infant's risk of SI
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