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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (cont.)

Exams and Tests

SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that other causes of death must be ruled out. The cause of an infant's death can be determined only through a process of collecting information and conducting sometimes-complex forensic tests and procedures. All other recognizable causes of death are investigated prior to making the diagnosis of SIDS.

Four major avenues of investigation aid in the determination of a SIDS death: postmortem lab tests, autopsy, death-scene investigation, and the review of victim and family case history.

  • Postmortem laboratory tests are done to rule out other causes of death (for example, electrolytes are checked to rule out dehydration and electrolyte imbalance; cultures are obtained to evaluate whether an infection was present). In SIDS, these laboratory tests are generally not revealing.


  • An autopsy provides clues as to the cause of death. In 15%-25% of sudden, unexpected infant deaths, specific abnormalities of the brain or central nervous system, the heart or lungs, or infection may be identified as the cause of death. The autopsy findings in SIDS victims are typically subtle and yield only supportive, rather than conclusive, findings to explain SIDS.


  • A thorough investigation of the death scene consists of interviewing the parents, other caregivers, and family members, collecting items from the death scene, and evaluating that information. A detailed scene investigation may reveal a recognizable and possibly preventable cause of death.


    • A parent or caregiver may be asked these questions:


      • Where was the baby discovered?


      • What position was the baby in?


      • When was the baby last checked? Last fed?


      • How was the baby sleeping?


      • Where there any recent signs of illness?


      • Was the infant taking any medication, either prescription or over the counter?

  • You should let your doctor know about any family or infant medical history. It is important to note that family history would include any previous history of unexplained infant death, sudden cardiac death, or metabolic or genetic disorders, for example.
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Sudden Infant Death Syndrome »

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is defined as the sudden death of an infant younger than 1 year that remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including the performance of a complete autopsy, examination of the scene of death, and review of the clinical history.

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