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Shaken Baby Syndrome (Intentional Head Injury)

Shaken baby syndrome (also called intentional head injury or abusive head trauma) is brain damage that occurs when a baby is shaken, slammed, or thrown against an object. It is a form of child abuse that occurs when the baby's caregiver loses control.

Shaking a baby or striking a baby's head is always dangerous. Babies' heads are large in relation to their bodies, and their neck muscles are not well developed. If a baby is forcefully shaken, slammed, or thrown, his or her head will jerk back and forth uncontrollably. The child's skull can hit the brain with force. When the inside of the skull forcefully strikes the brain, it can cause:

  • Bruising, swelling, or tearing of the brain tissue. Brain injury and bleeding can cause increased pressure in the brain, which can lead to serious, permanent brain damage.
  • Damage to the blood vessels at the back of the eye, which may cause bleeding inside the eye (retinal hemorrhage), vision problems, or blindness.
  • Death.
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Chuck Norlin, MD - Pediatrics
Last Revised February 20, 2013

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 20, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.