Three hundred and fifty eight infants from south east Scotland who died suddenly were classified into four groups. Categories for these groups ranged from where a definite cause of death had been recorded to where no explanation had been provided and no associated disorder was discovered (SIDS). Our results supported the view that there are few differences in the history of cases certified as SIDS and other cases reported as dying suddenly but with an explanation. Groups that most closely matched the SIDS definition employed were reported to be healthier throughout life and freer from illness in the 48 hours before death. From the findings of this study the 'true' SIDS group did not appear as an 'at risk' population. The study group as a whole was not marked by social deprivation, poor mothering, or less privileged families. The importance of intensive investigation, including postmortem examination was emphasised, as misdiagnosis may give a 'falsely' inflated picture of the incidence of the syndrome and could cause unnecessary anxiety.
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