Shaken baby syndrome

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a collective term for the internal head injuries a baby or young child sustains from being violently shaken Shaken baby syndrome was first described in the medical literature in 1972. Physicians earlier labeled these injuries as accidental, but as more about child abuse becameknown, more cases of this syndrome were properly diagnosed.

Every year, nearly 50,000 children in the United States are forcefully shakenby their caretakers. More than 60% of these children are boys. The victims are on average six to eight months old, but may be as old as five years or asyoung as a few days.

Men are more likely than women to shake a child; typically, these men are intheir early 20s and are the baby's father or the mother's boyfriend. Women who inflict SBS are more likely to be babysitters or child care providers thanthe baby's mother. The shaking may occur as a response of frustration to thebaby's inconsolable crying or as an action of routine abuse.

Infants and small children are especially vulnerable to SBS because their neck muscles are still too weak to adequately support their disproportionately large heads, and their young brain tissue and blood vessels are extremely fragile. When an infant is vigorously shaken by the arms, legs, shoulders, or chest, the whiplash motion repeatedly jars the baby's brain with tremendous force, causing internal damage and bleeding. While there may be no obvious external signs of injury following shaking, the child may suffer internally from brain bleeding and bruising (called subdural hemorrhage and hematoma); brain swelling and damage (called cerebral edema); mental retardation; blindness, hearing loss, paralysis, speech impairment, and learning disabilities; and death. Nearly 2,000 children die every year as a result of being shaken.

Physicians may have difficulty initially diagnosing SBS because there are usually few witnesses to give a reliable account of the events leading to the trauma, few if any external injuries, and, upon close examination, the physicalfindings may not agree with the account given. A shaken baby may present oneor more signs, including vomiting; difficulty breathing, sucking, swallowing, or making sounds; seizures; and altered consciousness.

To diagnose SBS, physicians look for at least one of three classic conditions: bleeding at the back of one or both eyes (retinal hemorrhage), subdural hematoma, and cerebral edema. The diagnosis is confirmed by the results of either a computed tomography scan (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Appropriate treatment is determined by the type and severity of the trauma. Physicians may medically manage both internal and external injuries. Behavioral and educational impairments as a result of the injuries require the attention of additional specialists. Children with SBS may need physical therapy, speech therapy, vision therapy, and special education services.

There is no alternative to prompt medical treatment. An unresponsive child should never be put to bed, but must be taken to a hospital for immediate care.

Sadly, children who receive violent shaking have a poor prognosis for complete recovery. Those who do not die may experience permanent blindness, mental retardation, seizure disorders, or loss of motor control.

Shaken baby syndrome is preventable with public education. Adults must be actively taught that shaking a child is never acceptable and can cause severe injury or death.

When the frustration from an incessantly crying baby becomes too much, caregivers should have a strategy for coping that does not harm the baby. The firststep is to place the baby in a crib or playpen and leave the room in order to calm down. Counting to 10 and taking deep breaths may help. A friend or relative may be called to come over and assist. A calm adult may then resume trying to comfort the baby. A warm bottle, a dry diaper, soft music, a bath, ora ride in a swing, stroller, or car may be offered to soothe a crying child.Crying may also indicate pain or illness, such as from abdominal cramps or anearache. If the crying persists, the child should be seen by a physician.

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