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Shaken Baby Syndrome (Abusive Head Trauma)

What is shaken baby syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome, also technically known as abusive head trauma, is a serious brain injury that results from forcefully shaking an infant or a toddler. It destroys a child’s brain cells and prevents his/her brain from getting enough oxygen. Shaken baby syndrome is a form of child abuse that can cause permanent brain damage or death. It is preventable through education and raised awareness. It is important to note that shaken injuries are NOT caused by actions such as bouncing a baby on your knee, tossing a baby in the air, or jogging with your baby. Short falls, like a fall off a couch, do not cause shaken baby syndrome either. There are approximately 1,300 cases reported in the United States each year. Men are more likely to cause shaken baby syndrome than women.

What are the symptoms of shaken baby syndrome?

Symptoms include, but are not limited to:
  • Breathing problems
  • Poor eating
  • Inability to lift head
  • Vomiting
  • Pale or blue-tinted skin
  • Extreme irritability or fussiness
  • Spots on head are bulging
  • Decreased muscle tone
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Coma
Physical symptoms do not always develop; however, there may be internal injury such as bleeding in the brain and eyes, spinal cord damage, and bone fractures.

What causes shaken baby syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome occurs because babies already have weak neck muscles that struggle to support their heavy heads. If a baby is shaken roughly, the fragile brain moves inside the skull, causing bruising, swelling, and bleeding. The most common instance of shaken baby syndrome is when a caregiver shakes a baby hard in frustration because the baby won’t stop crying.

How is shaken baby syndrome diagnosed?

Shaken baby syndrome is diagnosed using the following procedures:
  • Thorough physical examination
  • Recording of medical history
  • Skeletal survey to find fractures
  • Eye exam to find bleeding
  • Blood tests to rule out similar conditions
  • MRI and/or CT scan of the brain

What are the treatments for shaken baby syndrome?

Shaken Baby Syndrome treatment is supportive and works to stabilize the baby and minimize further damage. It includes, but is not limited to:
  • Breathing support
  • Surgery to stop brain bleeds
  • Orthopedic management of bone fractures
  • Follow-up evaluations monitoring long-term side effects of head trauma

Where can I find out more about shaken baby syndrome?

Shaken Baby Syndrome (Abusive Head Trauma) Articles