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Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS)

Shaken Baby Syndrome Facts

  • Shaken baby syndrome is a form of child abuse.
  • Infants with shaken baby syndrome have life-threatening injuries.
  • Many affected infants develop permanent brain damage and blindness as a result of the abuse.
  • Shaken baby syndrome is almost never seen as a result of accidental trauma.
  • Always report suspected child abuse.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Overview

Patient Comments

Shaken baby syndrome is the term that is used to describe a form of child abuse caused by vigorously shaking an infant, often in anger, to get a child to stop crying or whining. It usually occurs in children less than 1 year of age, and the violent shaking often results in severe and permanent brain injury, spinal-cord injuries, bleeding in the eyes (retinal hemorrhages), and even death.

Prevalence of Shaken Baby Syndrome

There are no accurate statistics, but experts estimate the incidence to be between 1,000 to 1,500 infants per year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the almost 2,000 children who die from abuse or neglect each year, shaken baby syndrome accounts for 10%-12% of them. Most commonly, the victim of shaken baby syndrome is between 3 and 8 months old; however, it has been reported in newborns and in children up to 4 years of age. In addition, 25% of all children diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome die from their injuries.

Causes of Shaken Baby Syndrome

Infants have very weak neck muscles and large and heavy heads in proportion to their bodies. In addition, because the infant brain is immature and needs room to grow, there is naturally a virtual space between the skull and brain to allow for development. Violently shaking an infant can cause the brain to move within the skull, resulting in cerebral contusions (bruising of brain tissue) and shearing (tearing) of blood vessels. Most commonly, the injuries associated with shaken baby syndrome include bleeding around the brain (subdural and subarachnoid hemorrhages), bleeding in the eyes (retinal hemorrhages), and spinal cord or neck injuries. Often infants will also have evidence of other non-accidental injuries, including unexplained bruises, rib fractures, or extremity fractures.

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