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Health Information For Parents
Abusive head trauma is a head or neck injury from physical child abuse. It happens when someone shakes a baby or hits the baby against something hard. Most cases happen when a parent or caregiver is angry, tired, or upset because a baby won’t stop crying or the child can’t do something they expect, like toilet train.
These injuries can cause permanent brain damage or death. People should never shake a baby for any reason.
Most cases of abusive head trauma (also called shaken baby syndrome) happen to babies and toddlers younger than 2 years old. Rarely, it can happen in children up to 5 years old. It can happen to boys or girls in any family.
At special risk for abuse are children who have a lot of special needs or health problems that make them cry a lot, like colic and GER.
Things like gently bouncing a baby on a knee or riding in a bumpy car won’t cause the problems seen in abusive head trauma.
Abusive head trauma happens when someone:
Shaking a baby is so harmful because:
In the most severe cases, babies and children may come to the ER, hospital, or doctor’s office not awake, having seizures, or in shock.
In less severe cases, a shaken child may:
Parents or caregivers often won’t say that the child was shaken or hit, so doctors may not know to check for head injury. Many signs of abusive head trauma, like fussiness and throwing up, are common in routine childhood illnesses. So it can be hard for doctors to figure out that a baby was harmed.
If abusive head trauma is suspected, doctors will:
Abusive head trauma often causes life-long harm to the brain and, sometimes, death.
Babies and children who survive may have:
If a child’s problems are mild, they might not be noticed until the child starts school and has problems with learning, focus, or behavior.
After abusive head trauma,a child may need long-term care from a team of health experts, such as:
They also need a pediatrician who can manage their ongoing complex care. They also might need support from therapists, such as:
Before age 3, a child can receive free speech therapy or physical therapy through state-run programs. After age 3, the child’s school district’s provides any needed special educational services.
As kids get older, they may need special schooling and ongoing help to build language and daily living skills, like dressing.
Abusive head trauma is 100% preventable. A key part of prevention is increasing awareness of the dangers of shaking:
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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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