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.

What is the treatment for shaken baby syndrome?

The first step in 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. Once diagnosed, supportive care provides the mainstay of medical management. Neurosurgical procedures may be indicated as well as orthopedic management of bone fractures. Eye specialists (ophthalmologists) are critical in the evaluation and monitoring of retinal hemorrhages. Once the infant is medically stable, a series of developmental evaluations are necessary to provide a baseline at the time of diagnosis. Follow-up evaluations monitor for long-term side effects of head trauma. The perpetrator will need to undergo psychological evaluation.

What are complications and long-term effects of shaken baby syndrome?

Neurologic side effects of either shaking or blunt skull trauma may span from developmental delays, seizure disorders, visual impairment, and blindness to death. Orthopedic consequences of inflicted trauma range from the need for recurrent surgery to permanent loss of function if the back (and thus spinal cord) is involved. Scarring of the skin is a common side effect of inflicted burns. Plastic and reconstructive surgery may be necessary depending on the nature of the trauma (for example, immersion into hot water). Emotional side effects may be obvious or subtle and may not necessarily be present or detectable at the time of diagnosis. Counseling and psychological support and intervention may require repeated or long-lasting attention.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/6/2015
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