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Shaken Baby Syndrome

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a trauma to the brain due to child abuse. Shaken baby syndrome occurs when a child is violently shaken, slammed, punched or thrown. It is also known as shaken impact trauma, abusive head trauma and intentional head injury. The syndrome mostly happens when a frustrated parent or caregiver tries to stop a baby from crying in abusive manner. One can shake a child by the arms, legs, chest or shoulders. On the other hand, shaken baby syndrome does not result from gentle bouncing a child on a knee, swinging or tossing a child in the air. Shaken baby syndrome usually occurs in children younger than 3 years, but it is most common in infants younger than 1 year. However, the syndrome may affect children up to age 5. Head trauma that results from shaken baby syndrome can cause life long problems and even death.

Causes of Brain Injury

When someone shakes, throws or slams a child against an object, baby’s head rotates uncontrollably about the neck causing the brain to bounce back and forth against the skull and rupture of blood vessels and nerves of the brain. This tears the brain tissue and leads to bleeding and swelling. Children suffer from brain injury while shaken or thrown because of their heavy, large heads and weak neck muscles. They also have delicate blood vessels in the brain because of which they easily tear.

Symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Symptoms of shaken baby syndrome depend on the age of a victim, frequency of abusing, force that was used and how long the abuse lasted each time. Mild brain injuries result in subtle symptoms. Abused child may vomit, get irritable and lethargic or lose its appetite. In case of severe brain injuries, a child may suffer from seizures, breathing difficulties, hearing problems or bleeding inside the eyes. If abused child has trouble breathing, seizures or loss of consciousness it needs immediate medical help. If the brain injury is serious, the symptoms may appear quickly and sometimes they appear after a couple of days due to brain swelling. Long term consequences of shaken baby syndrome may include hearing loss, developmental delays, blindness, speech problems, learning difficulties and memory problems. In worst case, a child dies from the brain injury.

Diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome is hard because usually parents or caregivers will not tell the truth about what has happened to their child. A doctor might suspect the syndrome if the information they provide are vague or changing. If there are other signs of abuse like fractures, bruises or burns the cause can be identified, but often there are no such signs. Physical exam and blood tests can help in diagnosing as well as imaging tests such as X-rays, CT, and MRI scan. All in all, if a doctor suspects the syndrome he or she must report it to the police.

Treatment of Shaken Baby Syndrome

A child with shaken baby syndrome must be hospitalized. Breathing problems can be treated with respiratory support, brain swelling with draining of the blood and temperature with medications or cooling mattress. Medications can be also given for treatment of seizures.

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