Apparent life-threatening events presenting to a pediatric emergency department

Pediatr Emerg Care. 1999 Jun;15(3):195-9. doi: 10.1097/00006565-199906000-00009.


Objective: To review the etiology, clinical decision-making process, and outcomes of apparent life-threatening events (ALTEs) presenting to a children's hospital emergency department (ED).

Design: Retrospective patient record review.

Subjects: One hundred thirty infants under the age of 1 year fulfilling the diagnostic definition of an apparent life-threatening event.

Results: In a calendar year, 130 infants presented to a large children's hospital ED. The total number of ALTEs studied was 196. The median age was 2 months, and 50% of infants had a normal clinical examination. Eighty-three percent of ALTEs resulted in admission to the hospital. The approach to investigation and management of an ALTE during admission appeared unstructured. Discharge diagnoses, both from the ED and the inpatient service, were numerous, the most common being convulsion, febrile convulsion, GOR, and lower respiratory tract infection. The diagnosis frequently changed in those attending more than once. Eighteen months after cessation of data collection, no infants had died. Follow-up information revealed a higher-than-expected prevalence of asthma and seizures.

Conclusions: This is a diverse group of infants, many of whom appear normal following the ALTE. There are many possible diagnoses, but diagnosis correlates poorly with presenting symptoms. It also appears that many commonly performed investigations conducted in this group of infants may not be those that are most helpful for diagnosis, and doctors may be making diagnoses with little supportive evidence. Until research on this group of "first-presentation" infants provides management guidelines for family and emergency doctors, it may be prudent to advise that all such infants presenting with an ALTE should be admitted for a period of observation and further investigation. This would help ensure more accurate diagnosis, as well as provide reassurance for the family.

MeSH terms

  • Apnea / diagnosis*
  • Apnea / etiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cyanosis / etiology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Emergencies
  • Emergency Treatment*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Pediatrics*
  • Respiration Disorders / diagnosis
  • Respiration Disorders / etiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Seizures / diagnosis
  • Seizures / etiology
  • United Kingdom