Toddlers’ Seizures During Sleep Linked to Sudden Unexplained Deaths

BEL AIR, Maryland – On the last night of Hayden Fell’s life, his family tucked him into bed after an evening of singing and playtime with his twin brother and sister. The next morning, the unthinkable happened: Hayden’s father found him unresponsive in his crib. An autopsy couldn’t explain why a seemingly healthy 17-month-old had suddenly died in his sleep, leaving his family devastated and searching for answers.

Researchers at NYU Langone Health have been studying similar cases of sudden unexplained death in childhood (SUDC). They recently analyzed home monitoring video of seven sleeping toddlers who passed away, and their findings suggest that seizures during sleep may play a role in at least some of these tragic deaths. The study, published in the journal Neurology, is the first to provide direct evidence of a seizure link to SUDC.

Interestingly, the study revealed that some of the toddlers who died had a history of fever-related seizures, a common occurrence in young children. While these febrile seizures are typically harmless, researchers are now questioning if they could serve as a warning sign of a more serious underlying condition in some cases.

Dr. Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist and senior author of the study, emphasized the importance of the video evidence in providing insights into what may have happened to these children. The recordings, captured by home monitors, have shed light on potential clues that could help unravel the mystery of SUDC.

SUDC is estimated to claim over 400 lives each year in the U.S., with most deaths occurring during sleep. Unfortunately, unlike sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), SUDC receives less public attention and research funding, leaving families like Hayden’s with little awareness of this devastating phenomenon until it’s too late.

However, more research is needed to fully understand the connection between seizures and SUDC, and to determine if there are specific risk factors that could help identify children at risk. As the scientific community continues to investigate these tragic cases, families affected by SUDC are hopeful that the findings will lead to better outcomes for future children at risk.

In the meantime, the research serves as a crucial step forward in uncovering the potential factors contributing to SUDC, offering hope to families who have experienced the devastating loss of a child to this mysterious and heartbreaking phenomenon.