• Clinical science

Sudden infant death syndrome

Abstract

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the abrupt and unexplained death of an infant less than 1 year old. Although the etiology of SIDS remains unclear, evidence suggests that it is caused by a combination of environmental triggers and cardiorespiratory impairment, which then leads to prolonged hypoxia. Most SIDS cases occur in the first 6 months of life. Parents should receive information on how to prevent SIDS during prenatal care and in pediatric check-ups after birth: Recommendations include placing the infant on his/her back to sleep, ensuring a safe sleep environment, and avoiding overheating and second-hand smoke. SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion; an autopsy is therefore important to rule out differential diagnoses (e.g., congenital cardiac anomalies or battered child syndrome).

Definition

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the abrupt and unexplained death of an infant. Diagnosis requires that a forensic examination reveals no other cause of death.

Epidemiology

  • Peak incidence: 2–6 months ; in rare cases, during the first days of life
  • Sex: >

Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Etiology

The etiology of SIDS remains unclear. Evidence suggests that it is caused by a combination of both extrinsic and intrinsic factors, which ultimately lead to acute or chronic hypoxia. Over 90% of cases of SIDS occur during sleep.

Extrinsic factors (triggers)

  • Sleeping in the prone position
  • Exposure to nicotine during pregnancy and after birth (including 2nd-hand smoking)
  • Overheating
  • Unsafe sleeping environment or CO2 rebreathing: e.g., a shared blanket, stuffed animals in the crib (because of the grasping reflex, newborns tend to drag items to their faces)
  • Many more correlations: SIDS in siblings, babies born prematurely, young mothers (< 16 years), low socioeconomic status, etc.

Intrinsic factors

  • Brainstem disorder that includes morphologic/biochemical abnormalities of serotonin (known as 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT), which impacts the respiratory drive, the ability to wake up, blood pressure, upper respiratory reflexes , and body temperature.

References:[1]

Differential diagnoses

SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion. If there is an unexplained death of an apparently healthy infant, an autopsy is required by law to rule out other causes of death.

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Prevention

Parents should receive information on how to prevent SIDS during prenatal care and in pediatric check-ups after birth.

  • During pregnancy
  • Protective factors after birth
    • The infant should be placed to sleep in the supine position
    • Safe sleep environment: firm mattress; no pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, or bumper pads in the crib.
    • In the first 6 months, co-sleeping in the same room without bed-sharing
    • Second-hand smoke and overheating should be avoided
    • Breastfeeding until the 4th–6th month
    • "Tummy time"
    • Immunization in line with the official schedule

References:[2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

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  • 2. Hauck FR, Herman SM, Donovan M et al. Sleep environment and the risk of sudden infant death syndrome in an urban population: the Chicago Infant Mortality Study. Pediatrics. 2003; 111(5.2): pp. 1207–1214. pmid: 12728140.
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  • 5. Alm B, Milerad J, Wennergren G. A case-control study of smoking and sudden infant death syndrome in the Scandinavian countries, 1992 to 1995. The Nordic Epidemiological SIDS Study. Arch Dis Child. 1998; 78(4): pp. 329–334. pmid: 9623395.
  • 6. Kandall SR, Gaines J, Habel L, Davidson G, Jessop D. Relationship of maternal substance abuse to subsequent sudden infant death syndrome in offspring. J Pediatr . 1993; 123(1): pp. 120–126. pmid: 8320605.
  • 7. Strandberg-Larsen K, Grønboek M, Andersen AM, Andersen PK, Olsen J. Alcohol drinking pattern during pregnancy and risk of infant mortality. Epidemiology. 2009; 20(6): pp. 884–891. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e3181bbd46c.
  • 8. Hauck FR, Thompson JM, Tanabe KO, Moon RY, Vennemann MM. Breastfeeding and reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome: a meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2011; 128(1): pp. 103–110. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-3000.
  • Leach CEA, Blair PS, Fleming PJ, et al. Epidemiology of SIDS and explained sudden infant deaths. Pediatrics. 1999; 104(4): pp. e43–e43. doi: 10.1542/peds.104.4.e43.
  • Kinney HC, Thach BT. The Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. N Engl J Med. 2009; 361(8): pp. 795–805. doi: 10.1056/nejmra0803836.
last updated 01/22/2018
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