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Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)


Disease: Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Category: Children diseases
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Disease Definition:

The unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby, which usually occurs during sleep, is called sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This syndrome has no definitive cause or warnings.

Only in some rare cases does sudden infant death syndrome occur before 1 month of age or after 6 months. It usually occurs between the age of 2 and 4 months.

Putting the baby on his/her back when sleeping is one of the measures that can protect the child from SIDS. Other factors have also been discovered that may put babies at risk of SIDS.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Not available


Thanks to the educational campaigns about the importance of placing infants to sleep on their backs, the occurrence of sudden infant death syndrome has decreased. However, in developed countries, SIDS is still the most common cause of death for infants in the first year of life.

Infections, suffocation, choking or vomiting are some of the possible causes that have been ruled out over the years.

Although many factors are believed to be involved in the occurrence of SIDS, but its exact cause still isn't completely clear. For instance, the health and behavior of the mother during pregnancy may play a role. Additionally, SIDS may occur in a child who has a biological vulnerability, such as a heart or brain defect, is in a critical developmental period, in addition to the presence of an environmental stressor, such as stomach sleeping.

The triple-risk model consists of the three factors mentioned above, critical developmental period, vulnerability and outside stressor, combines within the first six months of an infant's life.

Recently, researchers have discovered clues as to what may be involved in SIDS, such as:

Brain and nerve characteristics:
one of the factors that may play a role in SIDS is the presence of abnormalities in the division of the brain that helps control breathing and arousal. In infants with SIDS, the fatty substance known as myelin, which is involved in nerve signal transmission, may develop more slowly. Additionally, the brainstems of infants with SIDS may also mature more slowly than those of other infants.

Another factor may be the response of babies to low blood oxygen levels (hypoxia) and the way they breathe when sleeping.

Heart function:
A genetic defect in one of the genes responsible for long QT syndrome has been found in about 1 of every 10 baby who died of SIDS. The connection is still being studied between SIDS and long QT syndrome, which is a subtle electrical disturbance in the heart that causes sudden, extremely rapid heart rates. The presence of long QT syndrome will be checked in an infant with an electrocardiogram (ECG) and confirmed, if necessary, with genetic studies, in case there's a history of SIDS in the family.

Immunizations have been found not to play a role in SIDS.

Some of the factors that may increase the risk of SIDS in a baby include:

-    Sex: Baby boys are more likely to die of SIDS than are baby girls.

-    Age: Between 1 month and 6 months of age infants are most vulnerable, but most importantly, during the second and third months.

-    In case a baby was born prematurely or had a low birth weight, he/she will be more likely to have SIDS.

-    There seems to be an unexplained link between SIDS and race.

-    It seems that babies who sleep on their stomachs are much more likely to die of SIDS that is why this may be a factor. Additionally, babies who are used to sleeping on their backs and are suddenly switched to sleeping on their stomach are at greatest risk. Now it is well known that stomach sleeping may really increase a baby's risk, even though babies rest more soundly in that position, which made the doctors recommend stomach sleeping in the past. The risk may also be caused by soft bedding and side sleeping, as infants placed on their sides are likely to roll to their stomachs.

-    Having mothers who use drugs or smoke: The risk of SIDS in a baby may increase when being exposed to secondhand smoke, having a mother who uses drugs, such as methadone, heroin or cocaine while she's pregnant, or a mother that is smoking cigarettes during or after her pregnancy.

-    Being born during the winter or fall months: When the weather is cooler, more cases of SIDS occur.

-    Overheated: The risk of SIDS is greater in babies whose rooms are too warm, who are covered with multiple blankets or overdressed, if they are put to sleep on their stomachs in particular.

-    Recent recovery from an upper respiratory infection.

-    Siblings of a baby who died of SIDS, prolonged QT and such genetic disorders may be involved.

The babies whose mothers had one of the following are at risk as well:

-    Low weight gain during pregnancy
-    Placental abnormalities, like placenta previa, which is a condition where the placenta lies low in the uterus, sometimes covering the opening of the cervix
-    History of sexually transmitted diseases or urinary tract infections
-    Having the first pregnancy at younger than 20 years of age
-    Anemia
-    Inadequate prenatal care



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