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SIDS misdiagnosis the exception, not the rule


June 29, 1999
Web posted at: 2:52 p.m. EDT (1852 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland

(CNN) -- Each year 5,000 to 6,000 families lose a child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the cause of which still remains a mystery to doctors.

The devastation experienced by these families is only heightened when there are reported cases of child abuse misdiagnosed as SIDS.

Stacey Kohm, a crisis counselor with the SIDS Alliance, says the cases of misdiagnosis are the exception to the rule. "They are not common at all," she says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates cases thought to be SIDS are diagnosed correctly 95 to 98 percent of the time.

While misdiagnosed SIDS cases grab the media spotlight, according to the SIDS Alliance, it is more common for the families of SIDS victims to be unjustly accused of wrongdoing.

"Innocent families are accused of having killed their children, and they're really innocent," Kohm says.

To help eliminate mistaken suspicion, government health agencies issued guidelines for investigating unexplained infant death.

"The next step after the scene, the examination and interview of the caretakers is a thorough and complete autopsy of the remains," said Dr. Gerald Goweitt of the Dekalb Medical Center in Atlanta.

Still, there is no definitive test to diagnose SIDS. Medical examiners determine a death is due to SIDS after excluding other causes, such as metabolic disorders, environmental toxins and child abuse.

Diagnosing the mysterious disorder is difficult because researchers have not found the cause. It is speculated that immature brain development is one possibility, as is a heart defect known as a long QT interval.

Researchers do know it is possible to reduce the risk of SIDS by putting babies to sleep on their backs rather than their stomachs or sides. It is advised that parents tell anyone caring for their child to follow this precaution.

Evidence also suggests pacifiers may help protect against SIDS, because the sucking may enhance brain development and strengthen muscles in the airway.

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May 21, 1999
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May 3, 1999
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Probation, house arrest for mother who killed 8 children
June 28, 1999

American Academy of Pediatrics
SIDS Alliance
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