An examination of more than 300 sudden, unexpected deaths in young children, which usually occur during sleep,  commonly known as SIDS in babies or SUDC in toddlers, including extensive medical record analysis and video evidence donated by families to document the inexplicable deaths of seven toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 finds they were potentially attributable to seizures. 

These seizures lasted less than 60 seconds and occurred within 30 minutes immediately prior to each child’s death, say the study authors.

Up to 3,000 U.S. families lose a baby or young child unexpectedly and without explanation each year. Most are infants in what is referred to as sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, but 400 or more cases involve children aged 1 and older, and in what is called sudden unexplained death in children (SUDC). Over half of these children are toddlers.

Earlier research says that children who died suddenly and unexpectedly were 10 times more likely to have had febrile seizures than children who did not die suddenly and unexpectedly. Febrile seizures are also noted in one-third of SUDC cases registered at NYU Langone Health, which houses the data used in the current paper.

The finding is important because it is based on rare SUDC cases for which there were also home video recordings, from either security systems or commercial crib cameras, made while each child was sleeping on the night or afternoon of their death. Five of seven recordings were running nonstop at the time and showed direct sound and visible motion indicative of a seizure happening. The remaining two recordings were triggered by sound or motion, but only one suggested that a muscle convulsion, a sign of seizure, had occurred. Only one toddler had a documented previous history of febrile seizures.

All children in the study had previously undergone an autopsy that revealed no definitive cause of death.

Seizures are usually unwitnessed during sleep so if not for the video evidence, death investigations would not have implicated a seizure. It means seizures may be more common than patients’ medical histories suggest.