Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Carol D. Berkowitz


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Sudden death may affect persons of any age, but it is especially devastating when it affects previously healthy individuals. In the past, between 5000 and 10,000 infants (1 to 2 per 1000 live births) succumbed yearly to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as "crib death." With recent changes related to infant position during sleep, the number of deaths has decreased to about 3000 and the rate to about 0.8 deaths per 1000 infants.

The term SIDS was officially designated in 1963 to describe a syndrome of unexpected death in infants under 1 year of age for which no pathologic cause could be determined by a thorough postmortem examination. The syndrome has been a leading cause of death of infants between 1 month and 1 year of age.1

An understanding of SIDS is essential for emergency physicians so that they can recognize the syndrome, initiate resuscitation, manage infants who have experienced an apparent life-threatening event (ALTE, previously termed "near miss" SIDS) and counsel the family of the victim.2

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