SIDS Program Manual SIDS & Infant Death Program Manual and Trainer's Guide Trainer's Guide

What is SIDS?


Photo of nurse with chart

While most conditions or diseases are diagnosed by the presence of specific symptoms, SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion. A SIDS diagnosis is assigned only after all other causes of death have been ruled out through:

  1. An autopsy
  2. An examination of the death scene
  3. A complete review of the infant's medical history

Often, the cause of an infant's death can only be determined through the process of collecting information, conducting forensic tests and procedures and interviewing parents and physicians.

Autopsy. An autopsy provides anatomical evidence through microscopic examination of tissue samples and vital organs. An autopsy is important to the diagnostic process because SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion. A definitive diagnosis cannot be made without a thorough postmortem examination that fails to point to any other cause of death.

Death Scene Investigation. A thorough death scene investigation involves interviewing parents, other caregivers and family members, visiting the death scene and possibly conducting reenactments and collecting items. Although potentially painful for a family, a detailed scene investigation may shed light on the cause of death, sometimes revealing a recognizable and possibly-preventable cause.

Review of the Infant?s Family Case History. Often, a comprehensive review of the medical history of the infant and the infant's family is critical to determining a SIDS death. A careful review of documented and anecdotal information about the victim's or family's history of previous illnesses, accidents or behaviors may further corroborate information from an autopsy and a death scene investigation.

These procedures help distinguish SIDS deaths from those resulting from accidents, abuse or previously undiagnosed conditions such as cardiac or metabolic disorders.