Application of a classification system focusing on potential asphyxia for cases of sudden unexpected infant death

Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2012 Mar;8(1):34-9. doi: 10.1007/s12024-011-9291-0. Epub 2011 Nov 11.


Current classification schemes for sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) may not be optimal for capturing scene events that potentially predispose to asphyxia. (1) To compare causes of death in a group of SUID cases assigned by multiple reviewers using our recently published classification scheme for SUID that is based on asphyxial risk at the death scene, and (2) To compare these newly assigned causes of death to that originally assigned by the medical examiners of record who performed the autopsies. Five reviewers independently assigned causes of death for 117 cases of SUID, including 83 originally diagnosed as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), accessioned into the San Diego SIDS/SUDC Research Project from the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office. The diagnostic categories are: A: SIDS; B: Unexplained-Potentially Asphyxia; C: Unexplained-Other Potential Causes of Death; D: Unclassified-Other; E: Unclassified; and F: Known Cause of Death. The reviewers collectively opined that conditions at the death scene contributed to or caused death in 32-50% of all of the 117 cases as well as in 40-59% of the 83 originally diagnosed SIDS cases. Another cause of death was considered plausible in 2-12% of the SIDS cases. Application of this new classification system resulted in 55-69% decrease in SIDS diagnoses. Asphyxia as a potential contributor to, or as the specific cause of death, appears to exist in a large percentage of cases designated as SIDS using other classification schemes. When certifiers use a classification system that focuses upon potential asphyxia in determining the cause of death the incidence of SIDS dramatically declines.

MeSH terms

  • Asphyxia / mortality*
  • Bedding and Linens / adverse effects
  • California / epidemiology
  • Forensic Pathology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sleep
  • Sudden Infant Death / classification*
  • Sudden Infant Death / diagnosis*
  • Sudden Infant Death / epidemiology