Arch Dis Child doi:10.1136/archdischild-2011-301393
  • Original articles

Sudden unexplained death in childhood (1–4 years) in Ireland: an epidemiological profile and comparison with SIDS

  1. Tom Matthews4
  1. 1National Paediatric Mortality Register, Dublin, Ireland
  2. 2Department of Statistics, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
  3. 3Department of Pathology, Children's University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
  4. 4Department of Paediatrics, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Cliona M McGarvey, National Paediatric Mortality Register, Children's University Hospital, Temple St, Dublin 1, Ireland; cliona.mcgarvey{at}
  1. Contributors CMG contributed to study design, data analysis and writing of the manuscript. MO'R contributed to study design, statistical analysis and review of the manuscript. JC, AT and DD contributed to interpretation of data and review of the manuscript. KH contributed to data collection. TM contributed to study design, data interpretation and review of the manuscript.

  • Received 16 November 2011
  • Accepted 4 April 2012
  • Published Online First 9 June 2012


Objective To examine the incidence of sudden unexplained death in children 1–4 years old (SUDC) in Ireland and to compare the epidemiological profile of SUDC with that of SIDS.

Design All cases of sudden unexplained death in children <5 years in Ireland between 1994 and 2008 were reviewed. Epidemiological information obtained from parental questionnaires and post-mortem reports was examined, and data on cases ≥52 weeks compared with cases <52 weeks.

Results SUDC accounted for 5% (n=44) of deaths in children aged 1–4 years during 1994–2008. During this period, the SIDS rate dropped from 0.71 to 0.34 per 1000 live births, while the SUDC rate increased from 0.08 to 0.18 deaths per 10 000 population aged 1–4 years. The median age of SUDC cases was 71.5 weeks, and the male/female ratio was 1.3:1. All died during a sleep period, 71% between 10pm and 8am, and more than two-thirds were found prone. Fewest cases occurred during July–September (11%), and a greater proportion occurred at weekends (55%). 52% (17/33) had symptoms (any) in the 48 h before death, and 35% (11/31) visited their general practitioner because of illness in the week preceding death. SUDC differed from SIDS in prevalence of maternal smoking (38% vs 72%, p<0.001), bed-sharing (17% vs 49%, p<0.001), and whether found prone (72% vs 23%, p<0.001).

Conclusion While SUDC shares some characteristics with SIDS, there are also some important differences. Further data collection will help determine whether SIDS and SUDC represent the same pathophysiological entity. Standardisation of protocols for investigating sudden deaths is urgently required for accurate diagnosis of cases.


  • Funding The Department of Health and Children, Ireland provided funding for this research.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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