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Sudden, Unexpected Death in Children

Am J Dis Child. 1977;131(11):1201-1202. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1977.02120240019001.
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The sudden and unexpected death of a previously healthy child is an event unexceeded in its capacity to induce feelings of tragedy, awe, and incomprehensibility.

Traumatic and accidental death excluded, the occurrence is rare enough so that when it happens the death always seems like a new and never before experienced event. A review of the literature,1-3 however, documents that there are regular and predictable causes, some of which are potentially preventable.

In considering this subject we should review what is meant by "sudden" and "unexpected." Sudden death has been defined as death occurring within minutes of the onset of the causative event to death, within an hour, and even to death within 24 hours of the final illness or episode.4

Unexpected has the implication that the person was considered to be in the prime of health.5 It has also included those individuals with known health problems


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