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Sweating and SIDS

I have a friend who lost her baby to SIDS 3 weeks Ago, and she said they she just cannot accept that he just stopped breathing- so she has been doing some of her own research and she said that he had shown signs, that he had had quite a few episodes of cold clammy sweats- and that he would scream when she put him on his back like it was hard for him to breathe. Even as early as 2 months he was trying to sit up whenever he was on his back. In the emergency room she said no one asked her if he had shown any signs- they only asked about her pregnancy and pre-natal care. When she started talking to other moms she found out that some of their babies had also had the cold sweats- and most of them died with a cold. When looking up cold clammy sweats- there seemed to be an association with heart arrhythmia and shock- or loss of blood flow to the body from the heart- but yet she says, you never read about the signs- or is it just coincidence in our area- do you ever hear parents say they noticed anything strange?

Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999

As pointed out below, there has been an association between sweating and heart problems. For example, sweating is commonly seen in adults who are having a heart attack. It is also seen in other cardiac conditions where the blood flow (or cardiac output) is decreased for any reason. However, that is not the only cause of sweating. Like breathing, sleep/wakefulness, the heartbeat, and skin blood flow; sweating is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This part of the brain controls basic life functions; things that you don't think about.

Professor Andre Kahn, from Belgium, and other researchers, have performed research projects which suggest that some infants at increased risk for SIDS have increased sweating. We believe these are a sign of autonomic nervous system dysfunction, rather than heart failure. Current theories about the cause of SIDS tend to focus on brainstem dysfunction. This observation of increased sweating also focuses attention on the brainstem. However, this finding requires more research before we will understand how common this is in infants at increased risk for SIDS, whether it is related to SIDS at all, and if so what it means.

I hope this helps. Thank you.
---Tom Keens, tkeens@CHLA.USC.EDU
Childrens Hospital Los Angeles

I read two articles you wrote on the SIDS web site. I was interested in the one on sweating and early days at daycare. My son passed away May 18, 1999 of SIDS. He was 3 1/2 months old. It was his first day at daycare. Also the question on Sweating dated 12 July 1999. I don't understand what clammy sweats are. My son sweated alot. His feet were always sweaty and when he napped he also woke up with his hair all wet of sweat.

Date: Wed, 21 Jul 1999

In response to the following questions:

I have spoken with many SIDS parents who say that their baby died during the first few days of going back to Child Care. Part of this is probably coincidence, similar to what turned out to be true for SIDS and DTP immunizations (baby shots). Baby shots are usually given at 2 and 4 months of age, and the peak incidence of SIDS is between 2-4 months of age. However, a number of scientific studies have been performed, and they showed that there was no relationship between baby shots and SIDS. Similarly, Maternity leave from most jobs is 2-3 months, so that mothers are going back to work when their babies are 2-3 months of age, which is also the peak incidence of SIDS. However, I am not aware of any scientific studies which have been performed on this issue. Certainly we do know that many Child Care Centers were apparently unaware of Back to Sleep recommendations, and thus many babies were put to sleep on their stomachs. This may have contributed to some deaths, although sleeping on the stomach is associated with an increased risk for SIDS but it is not the cause of SIDS. I think it will take some time and investigation before anyone knows for sure if Child Care has some effect on SIDS that we are unaware of. My prediction is that it will be a coincidence.

With respect to sweating, sweating can be a sign of heart failure. It is a symptom of heart attacks, for example. However, people sweat for many other reasons, and not everyone who sweats is having heart failure. The purpose of sweating is to cool the body. Therefore, if a baby is in a warm and/or humid environment, the baby will sweat more. Sweating is an automatic body response to changes in the environment (temperature), and thus is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This is the same part of the brain which controls whether you are asleep or awake, how you breathe, heart rate changes in response to the environment, blood pressure, etc. Professor Andre Kahn from Belgium, and others, have published scientific studies suggesting that infants at increased risk for SIDS have increased sweating. We interpret this finding as indicating that the autonomic nervous systems of these babies may be subtly dysfunctional. However, again, more study is needed. Sweating, in and of itself, is not a risk factor for SIDS and does not predict which baby will die from SIDS.

I hope this helps. Thank you.
---Tom Keens, tkeens@CHLA.USC.EDU
Childrens Hospital Los Angeles

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