An analysis of the usefulness of specific stages in the pathologic investigation of sudden infant death

Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2000 Dec;21(4):395-400. doi: 10.1097/00000433-200012000-00020.


Retrospective analysis of autopsy findings in 60 infants who had been found unexpectedly dead in their cribs or beds in South Australia from 1994 to 1998 was undertaken to determine the diagnostic usefulness of individual stages in the postmortem investigation. Positive findings occurred in 2 of 43 scene examinations (3%), 2 of 60 external examinations (3%), 2 of 11 radiologic examinations (18%), 8 of 60 internal examinations (13%), 7 of 60 histologic examinations (12%), and 3 of 58 microbiologic examinations (5%). No positive findings were detected on toxicologic screening. Not every case underwent each diagnostic step. This gave alternative diagnoses to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in 15 cases (25%). This study demonstrates an increase in the percentage of cases of unexpected infant death due to causes other than SIDS; it also shows the diagnostic yield of individual stages in the postmortem evaluation of such cases. Negative findings were important in giving validity to the diagnosis in the 45 cases that were ultimately designated as SIDS.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Autopsy / methods
  • Child Abuse / diagnosis
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Forensic Medicine / methods*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sudden Infant Death / diagnosis*
  • Sudden Infant Death / epidemiology
  • Sudden Infant Death / pathology