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A Journal on Pediatrics, Neonatology, Adolescent Medicine,
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

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Minerva Pediatrica 2010 April;62(2):203-16

language: Italian

Medico-legal investigation of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): differential diagnosis between natural and unnatural death

Ventura F., Portunato F., Celesti R.

Dipartimento di Medicina Legale, del Lavoro, Sezione di Medicina Legale, Psicologia Medica e Criminologia
dell’Università di Genova, Genova, Italia


The sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden dead of every infant or small child (usually within the first year of life). It is an unexpected event, according to the anamnesis of the subject, and the necroscopic examination of the event does not allow to demonstrate with success the proper cause of death. The careful forensic medical appraisal of the death scene and the clinician and anamnestic data, together with the anatomoistopatologic findings, are essential elements to make a correct diagnosis and discriminate between natural and violent causes of death, even if with remarkable interpretative difficulties. Only in rare cases (with variable statistical data), in spite of the scrupulous application of the surveying protocol, it is not possible to define the exact cause of the death. In these cases, generally characterized by an unspecific anossic anatomopathologic picture, the accepted diagnosis of death is exactly that of SIDS, reasoning by elimination. The study of the phenomenon must be based on a multidisciplinary approach, in which the legal surgeon’s cooperation with other specialists, such as the anatomopathologist and the pediatrician, plays an important role.

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