Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Human Development through the Life Span

Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2000

II. What is SIDS? 4
III. SIDS Procedures 4-5
* SIDS Annual Rate
IV. Risk Factors .......................................... 6
V. Current Research ................................ 6-7
More children die of SIDS in a year than all children who die of cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, child abuse, AIDS, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy combined. During the eighties, SIDS accounted for approximately 7,000 deaths, but that number dropped below 3,000 by the late nineties. Unfortunately, this decrease can only be attributed to better overall health techniques and medical practices. As of yet, the main cause of death for infants around the world is still unknown.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also known as "Crib Death", is defined as the sudden death of an infant under one year of age which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including performance of a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history. SIDS occurs unexpectedly in infants one month to one year in age who seem healthy at the time. Ninety percent of deaths happen by the end of the sixth month, usually between two and four months, ninety-eight percent die before twelve months of age. A SIDS death occurs quickly with no signs of suffering and is often associated with sleep. More deaths are reported in the fall or winter, and there is a 60 percent to 40 percent male to female ratio. It is only diagnosed after all other alternatives have been eliminated; it is a diagnosis of exclusion. This sudden infant’s death leaves many unanswered questions resulting in intense grief for parents’, families, and friends.

Medical personnel such as medical examiners and coroners must investigate SIDS, similar to any other sudden and unexplained death. There are three basic steps in the investigation of a SIDS death: the autopsy, the death scene investigation, and the review of victim and family case history. The autopsy is very important to exclude any other cause of death. Without an examination of all tissue and vital organs, a definitive diagnosis cannot be made. Also, if the cause of SIDS is ever to be discovered this will most likely be the way it will happen. Although an investigation into the death scene may seem insensitive considering the family\'s emotional state, it is the best way to reveal a possibly preventable cause of death. Knowing that the cause of death was not preventable may bring solace to the family. Next, a comprehensive medical history of the infant and its family is important in determining the actual cause of death. This in-depth study usually helps support the findings of the autopsy. If nothing leads to a definable cause of death, it is labeled SIDS and added to the many thousands of others.

The risk factors for SIDS are basically anything that may cause poor health in an infant; however, the mothers health and behavior during pregnancy is especially critical. Although there may be many other contributing factors, infants with a below average birth weight are more susceptible to this phenomenon. Infants of woman who smoke are 50 percent more likely to die of SIDS, yet infants with mothers under the age 20 make up a good portion of these deaths as well. A less obvious risk factor concerns the way an infant sleeps. Experts suggest that placing a child on its side to sleep may increase its chances of getting SIDS or many other ailments; therefore, the infant should be placed in the supine position (on its back) making it easier for the child to breathe. A sleeping prone baby may be a precursor to SIDS. Bedclothes or bedding that may inhibit the child\'s ability to breathe is also a common problem. Colds, viruses, or the subsequent drug treatment may also lead to a SIDS death. Note that is important during these times carefully monitored the child\'s breathing, and the heart rate will be noticeably higher. Cases of the infant sharing a bed or sleeping in someone else\'s bed has proved to be a slight risk factor though rarely is the sole factor. An estimated ten- percent of SIDS deaths is the result of Negligence.

Since we do not have an animal model to reflect SIDS, research would seem to lag compared to other devastating diseases