Shaken Baby Syndrome

(Shaken Impact Syndrome)

Definition

Shaken baby syndrome is a group of symptoms in babies or small children. The symptoms are caused by injuries from a violent shaking or hit to the head. They may be temporary problems, severe disabilities, or death. The severity of the symptoms will depend on the type of injuries to the baby's brain.

Causes

Shaken baby syndrome is caused by shaking or jerking a baby or young child. Even a few seconds of shaking can injure a baby. Babies and young children are more vulnerable to injuries from this type of movement because:
  • The neck muscles of young children, especially babies, are not strong. It can be tough for them to fully support their heavy heads or protect themselves from harsh movements.
  • Baby's brains are more fragile than adults. Shaking movements can cause the brain to move back and forth inside their skulls. The movement can injure the brain and tear small blood vessels. The bleeding can affect the brain and the eyes.
Shaken baby syndrome usually happens when a parent or other caregiver becomes angry or frustrated. It often happens because the baby will not stop crying.
Brain Bruised from Whiplash—Similar Effect in Shaken Baby Syndrome
Whiplash brain
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Boys are more likely to be abused in this way than girls. Other factors that may increase the chance of a shaking injury include a family history of:
  • Domestic or child abuse
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • History of stress or social difficulties

Symptoms

Symptoms can vary based on the severity of the injury. The injury depends on the length of time the baby is shaken or how hard the baby's head has hit a surface. Injuries caused by shaking are often extremely serious and can include:
  • Failure-to-thrive—not growing as expected
  • Poor feeding or vomiting
  • Seizures or spasms
  • Weakness
  • Semi-consciousness or loss of consciousness—not fully awake or aware of surroundings
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dilated or unresponsive pupils
  • Swollen head
  • Lethargy or irritability
These are serious symptoms. If your baby has any of the above symptoms, then go to the emergency room right away.There are not always bruises or other signs of injury to the child’s head or body. If there are visible injuries they may be:
  • Bruising of the part of the body used as a handle for shaking
  • Fractures of the arm bones, leg bones, and/or ribs

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