Sudden Death Syndrome: Infants, Adults, Causes, Prevention, More (2023)

Sudden death syndrome (SDS) is a loosely defined umbrella term for a series of cardiac syndromes that cause sudden cardiac arrest and possibly death.

Some of these syndromes are the result of structural problems in the heart. Others may be the result of irregularities within the electrical channels. All may cause unexpected and abrupt cardiac arrest, even in people who are otherwise healthy. Some people die as a result of it.

Most people don’t know they have the syndrome until a cardiac arrest occurs.

Many cases of SDS aren’t properly diagnosed, either. When a person with SDS dies, the death may be listed as natural cause or heart attack. But if a coroner takes steps to understand the precise cause, they may be able to detect signs of one of the syndromes of SDS.

Some estimates report at least 4 percent of people with SDS have no structural abnormalities, which would be the easiest to determine in an autopsy. Irregularities in electrical channels are more difficult to spot.

SDS is more common in young and middle-aged adults. In people of this age, the unexplained death is known as sudden adult death syndrome (SADS).

It can occur in infants as well. These syndromes may be one of the many conditions that fall under sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

One particular condition, Brugada syndrome, may also cause sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome (SUNDS).

Because SDS is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all, it’s unclear how many people have it.

Estimates suggest 5 in 10,000 people have Brugada syndrome. Another SDS condition, long QT syndrome, may occur in 1 in 7,000 people. Short QT is even more rare. Only 70 cases of it have been identified in the last two decades.

(Video) New study released on sudden infant death syndrome

It’s sometimes possible to know if you’re at risk. You may be able to treat the underlying cause of possible SDS if you are.

Let’s look more closely at the steps that can be taken to diagnose some of the conditions associated with SDS and possibly prevent cardiac arrest.

People with SDS usually appear perfectly healthy before their first cardiac event or death. SDS often causes no visible signs or symptoms. However, there are some risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of having some of the conditions associated with SDS.

Researchers have found specific genes may increase a person’s risk for some types of SDS. If a person has SADS, for example, more than 20 percent of their first-degree relatives (siblings, parents, and children) are likely to have the syndrome, too.

Not everyone with SDS has one of these genes, though. Just 15 to 30 percent of confirmed cases of Brugada syndrome have the gene that’s associated with that particular condition.

Other risk factors include:

  • Sex. Males are more likely to have SDS than females.
  • Race. Individuals from Japan and Southeast Asia have a higher risk for Brugada syndrome.

In addition to these risk factors, certain medical conditions can increase the risk of SDS, such as:

  • Bipolar disorder. Lithium is sometimes used to treat bipolar disorder. This drug can trigger Brugada syndrome.
  • Heart disease. Coronary artery disease is the most common underlying disease connected to SDS. Approximately 1 of every 2 deaths caused by coronary artery disease are sudden. The first sign of the disease is cardiac arrest.
  • Epilepsy. Each year, sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) occurs in about 1 out of every 1,000 people diagnosed with epilepsy. Most deaths occur immediately after a seizure.
  • Arrhythmias. An arrhythmia is an irregular heart rate or rhythm. The heart may beat too slow or too quickly. It may also have an irregular pattern. It could lead to symptoms such as fainting or dizziness. Sudden death is also a possibility.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This condition causes the heart’s walls to thicken. It can also interfere with the electrical system. Both can lead to an irregular or rapid heartbeat (arrhythmia).

It’s important to note that despite these identified risk factors, they don’t mean you have SDS. Anyone at any age and in any state of health can have SDS.

It’s unclear what causes SDS.

Gene mutations have been linked to many of the syndromes that fall under the SDS umbrella, but not every person with SDS has the genes. It’s possible other genes are connected to SDS, but they haven’t been identified yet. And some SDS causes aren’t genetic.

Some medications can cause the syndromes that may lead to sudden death. For example, long QT syndrome may result from using:

  • antihistamines
  • decongestants
  • antibiotics
  • diuretics
  • antidepressants
  • antipsychotics

Likewise, some people with SDS may not show symptoms until they begin taking these certain medications. Then, the medication-induced SDS may appear.

(Video) New study may have identified cause of SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome | ABC7

Unfortunately, the first symptom or sign of SDS can be sudden and unexpected death.

However, SDS can cause the following red-flag symptoms:

  • chest pain, especially during exercise
  • loss of consciousness
  • difficulty breathing
  • dizziness
  • heart palpitations or fluttering feeling
  • unexplained fainting, especially during exercise

If you or your child experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. A doctor can conduct tests to determine what’s the likely cause of these unexpected symptoms.

(Video) Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, pathology

SDS is only diagnosed when you go into sudden cardiac arrest. An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) can diagnose many of the syndromes that can cause sudden death. This test records the electrical activity of your heart.

Specially trained cardiologists can look at the ECG results and identify possible problems, such as long QT syndrome, short QT syndrome, arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy, and more.

If the ECG isn’t clear or the cardiologist would like additional confirmation, they may also request an echocardiogram. This is an ultrasound scan of the heart. With this test, the doctor can see your heart beating in real time. This may help them detect physical abnormalities.

Anyone experiencing symptoms associated with SDS may receive one of these tests. Likewise, people with a medical or family history that suggests SDS is a possibility may want to have one of these tests.

Identifying the risk early can help you learn ways to prevent possible cardiac arrest.

If your heart stops as a result of SDS, emergency responders may be able to resuscitate you with life-saving measures. These include CPR and defibrillation.

(Video) Sudden Infant Death Syndrome - Boys Town Pediatrics

After resuscitation, a doctor may perform surgery to place an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) if appropriate. This device can send electrical shocks into your heart if it stops again in the future.

You might still get dizzy and pass out as a result of the episode, but the implanted device may be able to restart your heart.

There’s no current cure for most causes of SDS. If you receive a diagnosis with one of these syndromes, you can take steps to help prevent a fatal incident. This may include the use of an ICD.

However, doctors are torn about using treatment for SDS in a person who hasn’t shown any symptoms.

Early diagnosis is an important step in preventing a fatal episode.

If you have a family history of SDS, a doctor may be able to determine if you also have a syndrome that could lead to unexpected death. If you do, you can take steps to prevent sudden death. These may include:

  • avoiding medications that trigger symptoms, such as antidepressants and sodium-blocking drugs
  • quickly treating fevers
  • exercising with caution
  • practicing good heart-health measures, including eating a balanced diet
  • maintaining regular check-ins with your doctor or cardiac specialist

The takeaway

(Video) SIDS Can Happen to Anyone - A Pediatricians Story | American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

While SDS usually has no cure, you can take steps to prevent sudden death if you receive a diagnosis before a fatal event.

Receiving a diagnosis can be life-changing and cause different emotions. In addition to working with your doctor, you may want to speak with a mental health specialist about the condition and your mental health. They can help you process the news and cope with changes in your medical status.


What is a prevention strategy for sudden infant death syndrome? ›

Keep your baby's sleep area (for example, a crib or bassinet) in the same room where you sleep, ideally until your baby is at least 6 months old. Keep soft bedding such as blankets, pillows, bumper pads, and soft toys out of your baby's sleep area.

Can Sudden Infant Death Syndrome be prevented? ›

SIDS usually occurs when a baby is asleep, although it can occasionally happen while they're awake. Parents can reduce the risk of SIDS by not smoking while pregnant or after the baby is born, and always placing the baby on their back when they sleep.

How can you reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome parents? ›

  1. Place your baby on their back to sleep. ...
  2. Do not let your baby's head become covered. ...
  3. Do not let your baby get too hot or too cold. ...
  4. Do not share a bed with your baby. ...
  5. Never sleep with a baby on a sofa or armchair. ...
  6. Do not let anyone smoke near your baby.

What increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome? ›

Babies might have a higher risk of SIDS if: their mother smoked, drank, or used drugs during pregnancy and after birth. their mother had poor prenatal care. they were born prematurely or at a low birth weight.

What are three effective methods of preventing sudden infant death syndrome SIDS )? ›

In order to prevent SIDS, do the following things: Always put your baby to sleep on their back—never on their stomach or side. Have your baby sleep in a crib in your room; never share your bed with your baby. Make sure your baby's crib mattress is firm.

What are the four 4 recommendations associated with preventing sudden infant death syndrome? ›

Minimising the risk of SIDS - video

It also includes tips on safe sleeping, sleeping baby on back, sleeping baby at the end of the cot, avoiding a flat head, and sleeping arrangements.

What are 5 possible causes of SIDS? ›

Risk factors for SIDS include:
  • placing a baby on his side or stomach to sleep, rather than on his back.
  • premature or low birth weight babies.
  • overheating the baby during sleep.
  • sleeping on too soft a surface, with loose blankets and bumper pads.
  • having a sibling who died of SIDS, or a family history of failure to thrive.

What are three leading causes of infant death? ›

The five leading causes of infant death in 2020 were:
  • Birth defects.
  • Preterm birth and low birth weight.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome.
  • Injuries (e.g., suffocation).
  • Maternal pregnancy complications.

What are 3 risk factors the mother may contribute to an increase risk of SIDS? ›

Mothers who have inadequate prenatal care. Abnormal placenta. Low weight gain during pregnancy. Maternal age under 20 years old.

What is leading cause of preventable death in children? ›

The information below is from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Accidents (unintentional injuries) are, by far, the leading cause of death among children and teens.

What are some factors that can and do reduce infant and children deaths? ›

Strategies for reducing the infant mortality rate
  • Improve the physical environment. ...
  • Adopt healthy personal and eating habits. ...
  • Adequate prenatal care and emotional support. ...
  • Address racial disparities. ...
  • Care for the whole person to improve overall health.
Mar 9, 2021

What is the single most significant risk of SIDS? ›

Stomach sleeping - This is probably the most significant risk factor, and sleeping on the stomach is associated with a higher incidence of SIDS.

What is the best prevention strategy for SIDS and suffocation? ›

Babies who sleep on their backs are at lower risk for SIDS than babies who sleep on their stomachs or sides. If baby usually sleeps on their back, putting them on the stomach or side to sleep for a nap or at night,increases the risk for SIDS by up to 45 times.

What is the biggest risk factor for infant mortality? ›

Preterm birth, intrapartum-related complications (birth asphyxia or inability to breathe at birth), infections and birth defects are the leading causes of most neonatal deaths.

What are the risk and protective factors associated with SIDS? ›

The risk of SIDS and suffocation, entrapment and strangulation is significantly reduced for babies whose sleep areas are free of these items. Get regular prenatal care during pregnancy and avoid smoking , drinking alcohol, and using marijuana or illegal drugs during pregnancy or after the baby is born.

Does white noise reduce SIDS? ›

White noise reduces the risk of SIDS.

We DO know that white noise reduces active sleep (which is the sleep state where SIDS is most likely to occur).

What are the top 3 preventable causes of death? ›

The top three leading causes of preventable injury-related death – poisoning, motor vehicle, and falls – account for over 86% of all preventable deaths. No other preventable cause of death—including suffocation, drowning, fire and burns, and natural or environmental disasters—accounts for more than 5% of the total.

What is the leading cause of infant death in the US? ›

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading causes were congenital abnormalities, low birthweight and preterm birth, maternal pregnancy complications, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and unintentional injuries.

Why is infant mortality so high in the US? ›

These premature births are the biggest factor in explaining the United States' high infant mortality rate. Pre-term births can have many different maternal causes, many of which -- such as high blood pressure, diabetes, Zika and other infections and age -- are not entirely within an expectant mother's control.

What makes a mother high risk? ›

Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and using illegal drugs can put a pregnancy at risk. Maternal health problems. High blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, epilepsy, thyroid disease, heart or blood disorders, poorly controlled asthma, and infections can increase pregnancy risks.

What are the 7 most preventable causes of death? ›

Annual number of deaths and causes
CauseNumberPercent of total
Smoking tobacco435,00018.1%
Infectious diseases75,0003.1%
8 more rows

Why children are more susceptible to accidental injury than adults? ›

Children's bodies are different from adults' bodies. They are more likely to get sick or severely injured. They breathe in more air per pound of body weight than adults do. They have thinner skin, and more of it per pound of body weight (higher surface-to-mass ratio).

What is the single most preventable cause of death in the world today? ›

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death.

Worldwide, tobacco use causes more than 7 million deaths per year. If the pattern of smoking all over the globe doesn't change, more than 8 million people a year will die from diseases related to tobacco use by 2030.

What are the top 5 causes of child mortality? ›

Globally, infectious diseases, including pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria, along with pre-term birth complications, birth asphyxia and trauma and congenital anomalies remain the leading causes of death for children under 5 years.

What are 4 factors that influence birth and death rates? ›

In order to study the effect of socioeconomic factors on birth and death rates, a socioeconomic status rating (SES rating) was developed, taking into account such factors as income, education, housing conditions, and land ownership.

What is the leading cause of death for infants and toddlers? ›

Some of the leading causes of infant death in the United States include the following: birth defects; prematurity/low birthweight; sudden infant death syndrome; maternal complications of pregnancy and respiratory distress syndrome.

Does breastfeeding reduce SIDS? ›

Babies who are breastfed or are fed expressed breastmilk are at lower risk for SIDS compared with babies who were never fed breastmilk. According to research, the longer you exclusively breastfeed your baby (meaning not supplementing with formula or solid food), the lower his or her risk of SIDS.

What is one strategy that can be implemented to reduce maternal and infant deaths? ›

Reaching a healthy weight, getting proper nutrition, managing chronic health conditions, and seeking help for substance use and abuse, for example, can help a woman achieve better health before she is pregnant. Her improved health, in turn, can help to reduce infant mortality risks for any babies she has in the future.

What is the best nursing intervention for preventing sudden infant death syndrome SIDS in a newborn client? ›

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guideline recommends always placing infants in the supine position (on the back) to sleep, on a firm and separate surface without any soft or loose objects in the parental room (room sharing) for the first year of life.

What strategies can be taken to reduce the causes of death and illness for these children? ›

Solutions that save lives, reduce child mortality
  • Immediate and exclusive breastfeeding.
  • Skilled attendants for antenatal, birth, and postnatal care.
  • Access to nutrition and micronutrients.
  • Family knowledge of danger signs in a child's health.
  • Improved access to water, sanitation, and hygiene.
  • Immunizations.
Jan 13, 2016

What are 5 ways to prevent SIDS? ›

There's no guaranteed way to prevent SIDS , but you can help your baby sleep more safely by following these tips:
  • Back to sleep. ...
  • Keep the crib as bare as possible. ...
  • Don't overheat your baby. ...
  • Have your baby sleep in in your room. ...
  • Breast-feed your baby, if possible.
May 20, 2022

Why do pacifiers reduce SIDS? ›

Why do pacifiers have such a positive influence? The reason is unclear. It may be because babies don't sleep as deeply when they have a pacifier, which helps wake them up if they're having trouble breathing. A pacifier also keeps the tongue forward in the mouth, so it can't block the airway.

What are the risk and protective factors of infant mortality? ›

Known risk factors for infants include prone and side sleeping, soft bedding, bed sharing, inappropriate sleep surfaces (including sofas), exposure to tobacco smoke, and prematurity; protective factors include breastfeeding, pacifier use, room sharing, and immunizations.

What are the top 4 causes of maternal mortality? ›

infections (usually after childbirth); high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia); complications from delivery; and. unsafe abortion.

What is the most preventable cause of illness and death? ›

Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States.


1. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
(St. Elizabeth Healthcare)
2. NUR 113 Sudden infant death syndrome--Harris
(HCC School of Nursing)
3. Health Headlines: Preventing sudden infant death syndrome
4. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Prevention Through Sleep Positioning
(Best Doctors)
5. New study could reveal more information about sudden infant death syndrome
(FOX 26 Houston)
6. Morning Rounds: Preventing sudden infant death syndrome, and more
(CBS Mornings)
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