Identify infant diseases using the scream

Identify infant diseases using the scream

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An infant's cry indicates health status

Diagnosing diseases in infants is a difficult task because the symptoms are often not clear. A research team has now shown that the baby's cry already provides clues as to whether there is an illness and even indicates what the illness is.

Researchers at Fresenius University of Applied Sciences have developed a new diagnostic procedure that can be used to analyze the cry of infants. According to the research team, this makes it possible to differentiate with 99 percent accuracy whether the cry is due to a healthy or pathological cause. In addition, the scream gives first indications of the clinical picture. The research project was recently presented on the university's science blog.

Diagnosing infant diseases is often difficult

Some underlying diseases that are present from birth are only discovered at school age, because the diagnostic options are previously very limited. For example, malformations of the articulation organs, early childhood neurological disorders or hearing problems are rarely discovered. This can lead to developmental disorders in the children.

Development problems due to undiscovered diseases

It happens again and again that children carry a developmental disorder with them for years without being noticed. The new cry analysis, which is still in the development phase, could shorten the suffering of those affected and their relatives and prevent development problems.

Differentiate between healthy and sick screams

"With the help of a special technical process, we were able for the first time not only to distinguish healthy from pathological cries, but also to assign the latter to a specific disorder," reports Professor Dr. Tanja Fuhr from the research team. The hit rate is already over 99 percent.

Infant cries analyzed by the computer

As part of the research project, 72 infants with known diseases were examined. Among the babies were those with too soft cartilage on the larynx, hearing disorders, cleft lip and palate or with a lack of oxygen during the birth process. The screams were recorded and analyzed by a computer using a data mining technique. This allowed certain acoustic parameters to be identified that are related to pathological processes.

Why does the scream indicate certain diseases?

As the research team reports, hardly any other system in an infant's body is as advanced as the voice. The cry hides one of the neuromuscularly highest-resolution systems in the early months of infancy. Many muscles and cranial nerves form a symbiosis to generate the screams. That is why hardly any other system is so well suited for the detection of certain phenomena.

A smartphone is enough

"The next step would be to validate our results in order to derive a general validity," explains Dr. Drove. Due to the small number of participants, the results have to be validated in larger groups before they can be used in clinics and pediatric practices. Once this has been done, the subsequent technical effort is minimal. A smartphone with the appropriate app would already be sufficient for the analysis.

The remaining obstacle

However, validation is a challenge. "We would need a large number of subjects per disorder," explains research colleague Professor Dr. Carla Wegener. Since some of the problems are rare, it could be difficult to get the required number of participants.

The human ear is inferior to the computer

Another finding of the study is that the human ear is inferior to the computer when it comes to differentiating between healthy and pathological screams. The researchers attempted to sensitize different groups of people, such as parents and midwives, to the various cries by means of hearing training in order to check whether people are also able to carry out the hearing diagnosis. Here, however, the success rate was only 64 percent. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Fresenius University of Applied Sciences: The cry of the infant - and what it tells us about malfunctions (accessed: November 21, 2019),

Video: What are Infant Distress Warning Signs? (May 2022).


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