September 30, 2016
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Clinicians validate shaken baby syndrome, abusive head trauma as medical diagnoses

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Shaken baby syndrome and abusive head trauma are acceptable medical diagnoses for child head trauma, according to multidisciplinary physician opinion.

“The truth is that this is a manufactured controversy — invented by a few authors, primarily so they can be used as expert witnesses,” Daniel Lindberg, MD, associated professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said in a press release. “Doctors who actually care for children are nearly unanimous in their agreement that shaking and abuse can clearly cause the findings that have been used to diagnose abusive head trauma.”

Daniel Lindberg, MD
Daniel Lindberg

In recent general periodical literature and a U.S. Supreme Court case, “shaken baby syndrome” (SBS) and “abusive head trauma” (AHT) had been questioned as valid reasons for subdural hematoma, coma or death in injured children. Lindberg, along with Sandeep K. Narang, MD, JD, of Lurie Children’s Hospital, and colleagues conducted an email survey between March and October 2015 to assess clinicians’ acceptability of shaking and other mechanisms of injury as medical diagnoses for severe retinal hemorrhages, subdural hematoma, coma or death. The survey was sent electronically to 1,378 physicians — including those in emergency medicine, critical care, pediatric neurosurgery and child abuse pediatrics — at 10 leading children’s hospitals nationwide who frequently saw and evaluated children with head trauma.

Among the 628 clinicians whose responses were included, 96.7% remarked that SBS (n = 88%) and AHT (n = 93%) were valid medical diagnoses. They indicated that shaking a child with or without impact would likely result in subdural hematoma, severe retinal hemorrhages, coma or death. Of those who responded that SBS or AHT was an acceptable diagnosis, 89.7% reported that scientific literature and their own clinical experiences helped form the opinion, 8% remarked their own clinical experiences informed them, and 1.8% used only scientific literature to form their opinion.

“It is critically important to dispel the myth that there is controversy about the harm resulting from abusive head trauma and shaken baby syndrome,” Lindberg said in the release. “The life and health of children are at stake here. There should be no confusion that these diagnoses are widely recognized and accepted among a range of physicians who provide care to these children.” – by Kate Sherrer

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.