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Emerg Med J. 2002 Jan;19(1):11-6.

Apparent life threatening events in infants presenting to an emergency department.

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Accident and Emergency Department, Royal London Hospital, London, UK.



To describe the aetiology and outcome of apparent life threatening events (ALTE) presenting to an emergency department (ED), and to assess the value of an initial investigation protocol.


A 12 month prospective study of infants under 1 year of age who presented to a children's hospital ED after an ALTE. A standardised history sheet and initial investigation protocol were used. All infants were admitted to hospital and followed up at six months.


There were 65 infants recruited, median age 7 weeks. None had died at the time of writing. Diagnoses included gastro-oesophageal reflux n=17 (26%), pertussis, n=6 (9%), seizures, n=6 (9%), urinary tract infection (5), factitious illness (2), brain tumour, atrial tachycardia, persistent ductus arteriosus and opioid related apnoea. No diagnosis was reached in 15 cases (23%). Fifty seven (88%) had only one admission to hospital for ALTE. More serious diagnoses were associated with a presentation age over 2 months, abnormal initial clinical examination, and recurrent ALTE.


ALTEs presenting to the ED may remain as a single, unexplained event or be attributable to numerous causes, ranging from minor to serious. Knowledge of the commoner causes and factors associated with higher risk could result in a more targeted approach, improving the decision making process and benefiting both infants and parents.

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