Shaken Baby Syndrome (Abusive Head Trauma)

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Symptoms and Signs

What are symptoms and signs of a subconjunctival hemorrhage?

Most of the time, no symptoms are associated with a subconjunctival hemorrhage other than seeing blood over the white part of the eye.

  • Very rarely people experience pain when the hemorrhage begins.

Shaken baby syndrome facts

  • Inflicted trauma (especially shaken baby syndrome) is a leading cause of childhood (especially infant) mortality.
  • There are several risk factors associated with an increased risk for shaken baby syndrome.
  • Multiple behavioral symptoms and physical signs enable physicians to establish the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome.
  • Successful treatment for shaken baby syndrome demands accurate diagnosis and removal of the infant (and any siblings) from the household in which the abuse occurred. Then, supportive care provides the mainstay of medical management.
  • Some victims of shaken baby syndrome may have either long-term or permanent consequences due to the type of abuse they experience.
  • Classes for parents discussing normal infant temperament and behavior may help expectant mothers and fathers have realistic expectations, thereby lessening the stress of their newborn's frustrating conduct.

What is shaken baby syndrome?

Dr. Robert Reece provided one definition of shaken baby syndrome (also called the shaken impact syndrome). He described the syndrome as "the constellation of signs and symptoms resulting from violent shaking or shaking and impacting the head of an infant or small child." The alternative descriptive phrase "abusive head trauma" serves as an umbrella term implying injury to the skull, brain, and spinal cord as a result of shaking and/or trauma to the head. Implicit in any terminology is that an adult purposefully inflicts such trauma on the infant. Research indicates that very young children (ages 4 and younger) are the most frequent victims of child fatalities. Although more recent statistics are not yet available, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) data for 2010 demonstrated that children younger than 1 year accounted for 47.7 percent of fatalities; children younger than 4 years accounted for nearly four-fifths (79.4 percent) of fatalities. These children are the most vulnerable for many reasons, including their dependency, small size, and inability to defend themselves. Of these lethal events, inflicted head trauma is the primary cause of such mortality. Amazingly, the most frequent etiology (cause) of fatal head injury to children below 2 years of age is inflicted head trauma. Inflicted head trauma is a subset of the larger problem of child abuse (lethal and nonlethal). Unfortunately, solid statistics are limited regarding the incidence of shaken baby syndrome. This partially is due to various terms used in medical and hospital records as well as under-recognition of shaken baby syndrome since symptoms and signs may be more subtle than those of general body injury seen in globally battered children. CDC statistics reflect the broad problem of physical violence against children, reporting approximately 122,500 victims, of whom 840 died. Of those who died, 60% were boys.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/24/2016

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