Characterizing sudden death and dead-in-bed syndrome in Type 1 diabetes: analysis from two childhood-onset Type 1 diabetes registries

Diabet Med. 2011 Mar;28(3):293-300. doi: 10.1111/j.1464-5491.2010.03154.x.


Aims: Type 1 diabetes mellitus increases the risk for sudden unexplained death, generating concern that diabetes processes and/or treatments underlie these deaths. Young (< 50 years) and otherwise healthy patients who are found dead in bed have been classified as experiencing 'dead-in-bed' syndrome.

Methods: We thus identified all unwitnessed deaths in two related registries (the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County) yielding 1319 persons with childhood-onset (age < 18 years) Type 1 diabetes diagnosed between 1965 and 1979. Cause of death was determined by a Mortality Classification Committee (MCC) of at least two physician epidemiologists, based on the death certificate and additional records surrounding the death.

Results: Of the 329 participants who had died, the Mortality Classification Committee has so far reviewed and assigned a final cause of death to 255 (78%). Nineteen (8%) of these were sudden unexplained deaths (13 male) and seven met dead-in-bed criteria. The Mortality Classification Committee adjudicated cause of death in the seven dead-in-bed persons as: diabetic coma (n =4), unknown (n=2) and cardiomyopathy (n=1, found on autopsy). The three dead-in-bed individuals who participated in a clinical study had higher HbA(1c) , lower BMI and higher daily insulin dose compared with both those dying from other causes and those surviving.

Conclusions: Sudden unexplained death in Type 1 diabetes seems to be increased 10-fold and associated with male sex, while dead-in-bed individuals have a high HbA(1c) and insulin dose and low BMI. Although sample size is too small for definitive conclusions, these results suggest specific sex and metabolic factors predispose to sudden unexplained death and dead-in-bed death.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cause of Death
  • Death, Sudden / epidemiology*
  • Diabetes Complications / etiology
  • Diabetes Complications / mortality*
  • Diabetes Complications / physiopathology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / mortality*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Syndrome