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Sudden infant death syndrome

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Introduction to sudden infant death syndrome

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is defined as sudden death of an infant within 1 year of age which is unexpected by any medical history or which cannot be explained even after complete postmortem examination and autopsy. Sudden infant death syndrome is a complex or multifactor disorder wherein the exact cause of death remains unknown and still remains as one of the leading causes of post neonatal death.1,2

Signs and Symptoms of sudden infant death syndrome   

There is no clear-cut demarcation to identify SIDS; however, the infant may present with certain common signs like difficulty in breathing and change in color (pallor, purple, blue). The infant may also have vomiting, cough and cry constantly.

Risk Factors for sudden infant death syndrome

The exact cause for SIDS is although unknown, there are various risk factors that may be associated to this sudden death of the infant.

  • Exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Alcohol use by the parent [mother] especially in the first trimester
  • Use of certain illegal drugs
  • Improper care during pregnancy
  • Improper growth of the fetus
  • Short interval between pregnancies
  • Lack of use of pacifier at bed time
  • Prone or side sleeping position
  • Thermal stress or over heating or over wrapping
  • Lack of breastfeeding
  • Soft sleeping surface or bedding

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These risk factors may directly or indirectly lead to sudden death of the infant. Apart from these, factors such as low socioeconomic status of the parents, lower level of education, young age and single marital status also contributes to this condition to a certain extent.1–3

Diagnosis of sudden infant death syndrome

The diagnosis can be relatively (though not accurately) made with proper information obtained from the parents of the infant. Physical examination of the infant is done to identify any abnormality or malformations and also to assess the neurological status. The height and weight of the child is noted in the growth chart along with head circumference. The investigations advised include blood tests, X-ray, urinalysis and any other relevant tests.1,2,4

Treatment of sudden infant death syndrome

Even today, the management of SIDS has been quite challenging and most of the time, the initial management of SIDS lies in the hands of parents/caregivers. Hence, the parents must follow the instructions given to them about the infant care. emergency treatment measures may be required if the infant’s condition is life-threatening. Administration of medications such as histamine H2 receptor antagonists may be required. Surgical intervention in case of severe conditions is a must.2, 4

Management of feeding—keeping the child in upright position after feeding, adequate burping, raising the head of the bed for comfort sleeping and usage of thickening formulas to increase consistency of the food is advised.

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Prevention of sudden infant death syndrome

Some of the preventive measures include:

  • Placing the infants on their back during sleep
  • Use of firm mattress
  • Setting a thermostat at a comfortable temperature
  • Using pacifiers at nap time and bed time
  • Avoiding usage of tobacco, alcohol and drugs by women


1. Hunt CE, Hauck FR. Sudden infant death syndrome. CMAJ. 2006; 174(13):1861–1869.

2. Hunt CE. Sudden infant death syndrome and other causes of infant mortality: diagnosis, mechanisms, and risk for recurrence in siblings. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2001; 164(3): 346–357.

3. Creery D, Mikrogianakis A. Sudden infant death syndrome. Am Fam Physician. 2003; 68(7): 1375–1376.

4. Hall KL, Zalman B. Evaluation and management of apparent life-threatening events in children. Am Fam Physician. 2005; 71(12): 2301–2308.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: March 21, 2015

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