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Terminology used by pathologists in reporting on sudden infant deaths


Aim: To determine whether the terms used by pathologists in reporting on sudden infant deaths are applied consistently.

Method: Postal survey.

Results: Replies were received from 63 pathologists who carry out necropsies after sudden infant deaths. There was a pronounced variation in their use of the terms “sudden infant death syndrome” and “unascertained”, with the last term being applied not only when there were apparently suspicious features but also in various other circumstances. Opinions were divided as to whether the term “sudden infant death syndrome” still serves a useful purpose. Deaths that had occurred while bed sharing were categorised in several different ways. Many pathologists commented on the inadequacy of the history available to them at the time of their report.

Conclusions: There is a serious need for greater consistency in the way pathologists report on sudden death in infants. Pathologists should be provided with a full history before they carry out the necropsy.

  • deaths categorised as “unascertained”
  • sudden infant deaths
  • terms used by pathologists
  • ONS, Office of National Statistics
  • SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome
  • SUDI, sudden unexpected deaths in infancy

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