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Could a Test Predict the Risk of SIDS?

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But the actual cost of monitoring is very low, Schwartz says. "In Europe it is $15-$20, and it may be a little more expensive in the U.S," he says. "It takes just a few moments and is a simple and non-invasive test. In my opinion, there are very few reasons not to do it. ... If I were a parent, I would not want to run the risk of long-QT syndrome. Even if it is rare, it can kill and does kill."

Also, he notes, several other screening tests are routinely performed, even for disorders for which the risk is extremely low. For example, all infants in the United States are tested for a genetic defect called phenylketonuria, which occurs in one in 100,000 babies. But with SIDS, says Schwartz, we are talking about maybe one in 2,000.

Other researchers have also been working to unravel the mystery of SIDS. One team has found that some infants who die of SIDS are unable to control their breathing while they sleep, and that this pattern may begin as early as the first week of life. These results led other researchers to investigate causes that may have begun before birth. In autopsies of infants who had died of SIDS, researchers found brain stem abnormalities, which probably formed while the baby was still in its mother's womb. These abnormalities may account for the breathing problems noted in some SIDS babies.

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent SIDS entirely. But certain factors that may increase its likelihood have been identified. Taking precautions doesn't guarantee that a baby will be safe from SIDS, but they can reduce the risk.

Here are some ways you can cut the risk of SIDS:

  • Always place your baby to sleep on his or her back. This is perhaps the most important step to prevent SIDS, as stomach sleeping has been found to double its likelihood. The risks increase further for babies accustomed to sleeping on their backs who are accidentally put to sleep on their stomachs.
  • Avoid soft mattresses, pillows, waterbeds and beanbag furniture. Use a firm mattress in a safety-approved crib.
  • Keep the baby's sleeping area clear of clutter, including stuffed toys and soft bedding.
  • Avoid smoking during pregnancy. Keep your baby's environment as smoke-free as possible.
  • Keep the baby's room at a comfortable temperature. Avoid overheating, as well as wrapping the baby in too many blankets or in heavy sleepwear.
  • Bed sharing has not been found to protect against SIDS, according the American Academy of Pediatrics, and, under some conditions, can be hazardous to the baby's health.

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