Health care providers and researchers don’t know the exact cause, but there are many theories.
More and more research evidence suggests that infants who die from SIDS are born with brain abnormalities or defects. These defects are typically found within a network of nerve cells that rely on a chemical called serotonin that allows one nerve cell to send a signal to another nerve cell. The cells are located in the part of the brain that probably controls breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and waking from sleep.
But scientists believe that brain defects alone may not be enough to cause a SIDS death. Evidence suggests that other events must also occur for an infant to die from SIDS. Researchers use the Triple-Risk Model to explain this concept. In this model, all three factors have to occur for an infant to die from SIDS. Having only one of these factors may not be enough to cause death from SIDS, but when all three combine, the chances of SIDS are high.
These factors are:1,2,3
According to the Triple-Risk Theory, all three things have to be present for SIDS to occur.
Removing one of these factors—such as external stressors—may tip the balance in favor of the infant’s survival. Because the first two situations can’t be seen or pinpointed, the most effective way to reduce the risk of SIDS is to remove or reduce environmental stressors. Strategies to remove these stressors form the basis of the Safe to Sleep campaign messages.
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