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Updated 15 February 2016

Shaken baby syndrome

Shaken baby syndrome is a head injury when a baby is shaken forcibly.

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Summary

  • Shaken baby syndrome is a severe form of head injury that occurs when a baby is shaken forcibly enough to cause the baby's brain to rebound (bounce) against his or her skull.
  • The condition is usually the result of non-accidental trauma or child abuse.
  • Symptoms may include changes in behaviour, irritability, lethargy, loss of consciousness, pale or bluish skin, vomiting, and convulsions.
  • Immediate emergency treatment is necessary.

Description

Shaken baby syndrome is a severe form of head injury that occurs when a baby is shaken forcibly enough to cause the baby's brain to rebound (bounce) against his or her skull. This rebounding may cause bruising, swelling, and bleeding (intracerebral haemorrhage) of the brain, which may lead to permanent, severe brain damage or death.

The condition is usually the result of non-accidental trauma or child abuse. In rare instances it may be caused by tossing a baby in the air or jogging with a baby in a backpack.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include changes in behaviour, irritability, lethargy, loss of consciousness, pale or bluish skin, vomiting, and convulsions. Although there usually are no outward physical signs of trauma, there may be broken, injured, or dislocated bones and injuries to the neck and spine.

Prognosis

Generally, the prognosis for children with shaken baby syndrome is poor. Most will be left with considerable disability. Retinal damage may cause loss of vision. If the child survives, he or she may require lifelong medical care for brain damage injuries such as mental retardation or cerebral palsy.

Treatment

Immediate emergency treatment is necessary and usually includes life-sustaining measures such as stopping internal bleeding and relieving increased intracranial pressure.

(Reviewed by Dr John D. Burgess, Red Cross Children's Hospital)

 
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