Shaken Baby Syndrome

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome is also known a shaken impact syndrome or abusive head trauma. It occurs when a child’s brain is injured as a result of someone shaking them vigorously or throwing them against a surface or object. Shaken baby syndrome is a form of child abuse and all cases should be reported to the police and social care authorities.

Most commonly, shaken baby syndrome relates to children under the age of 12 months old. However, it is possible for older children to be affected.

What causes shaken baby syndrome?

Brain injuries associated with shaken baby syndrome commonly occur when the baby is shaken or thrown against something hard. This results in the neck snapping backwards suddenly and the head moving around uncontrollably. Their brain bangs against their skull and causes damage to the nerves, blood vessels and the brain cells.

Babies have a high risk of traumatic brain injuries in the case of shaking or throwing, as their heads are disproportionately large compared to the rest of the body and the neck is still relatively weak. The brain’s blood vessels are also very fragile.

Most cases of shaken baby syndrome occur when a child is crying persistently and the parent or carer becomes intolerant and shakes the baby in frustration. There are also cases of intentional abuse.

Symptoms of shaken baby syndrome

The severity of symptoms tends to vary depending on the force of the shaking, the age of the child and how many times the child has been abused.

In milder cases, symptoms may include vomiting, loss of appetite and the child generally being a little grumpy and clingy.

In more severe cases, symptoms may include seizures, hearing difficulties, bleeding in the eyes and a slower heart rate. Sometimes, the child may also lose consciousness. In severe cases, symptoms can develop very quickly but in milder cases, it can take a couple of days for symptoms to become apparent.

If the child has been abused before or they have suffered other injuries during the shaking incident, visible signs such as cuts, burns and bruises may also be present. Doctors will also assess the child for broken bones and soft tissue injuries.

Diagnosis for shaken baby syndrome

If there are no other signs of abuse, shaken baby syndrome can be difficult to diagnose, as many of the symptoms are linked to other possible causes. In order to reach a diagnosis, doctors will carry out a series of tests, including physical examinations, X-rays and imaging scans, in addition to considering their medical history, their symptoms and any other information related to the child’s welfare (for example, if there have been previous cases of abuse).

What treatments are used for babies with shaken baby syndrome?

The types of treatment used depend on the nature and severity of symptoms. In severe cases, children are often cared for in intensive care units and provided with oxygen therapy and medication to aid breathing and reduce inflammation in the brain. Medication may be prescribed to control seizures and in cases of fever, a cooling mattress may be supplied to bring core body temperature down.

In severe cases where there is bleeding on the brain, surgery may be recommended. If the brain is damaged as a result of the injury, the following complications may occur: seizures, cerebral palsy, vision loss and hearing problems, learning difficulties and behavioural problems. It is possible for shaken baby syndrome to be fatal.

What to do if you suspect a child has shaken baby syndrome

If you suspect that a child has suffered injuries caused by shaking or throwing, it is incredibly important to act quickly and contact the police. If the child is displaying symptoms such as seizures, loss of consciousness or breathing difficulties, call 999 immediately and wait with them until paramedics arrive. If the child’s life is in danger, you may need to start infant CPR and the operator will talk you through this process.


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