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Infantile Apparent Life-Threatening Events, an Educational Review

Hamed Aminiahidashti



Many physicians have received a frantic call from anxious parents stating that their child had stopped breathing, become limp, or turned blue but then had recovered quickly. An apparent life-threatening event (ALTE) is defined as “an episode that is frightening to the observer, and is characterized by some combination of apnea, color change, marked change in muscle tone, choking, gagging, or coughing”. The incidence of ALTE is reported to be 0.05% to 6%. The knowledge about the most common causes and factors associated with higher risk of ALTE could be resulted in a more purposeful approach, improving the decision making process, and benefiting both children and parents. The aim of this review article was to report the epidemiology, etiology, evaluation, management, and disposition of ALTE. Infants with an ALTE might present no signs of acute illness and are commonly managed in the emergency settings that often require significant medical attention; hence, the emergency medicine personnel should be aware of the its clinical importance. There is no specific treatment for ALTE; therefore, the clinical evaluations should be focused on the detection of the underlying causes, which will define the outcomes and prognosis. ALTE is a confusing entity, representing a constellation of descriptive symptoms and signs; in other words, it is not a diagnosis. There are multiple possible etiologies and difficulties in evaluating and managing infants with these events, which are challenges to primary care physicians, emergency medicine specialists, and subspecialty pediatricians. The evaluation of these events in infants includes a detailed history, appropriate physical examination, diagnostic tests guided by obtained clues from the history and physical examination, and observation in the emergency department.


Infantile apparent life-threatening event; death, sudden; pediatrics; emergency medicine


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.22037/emergency.v3i1.7790


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