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Shaken Baby Syndrome - Topic Overview

Symptoms can start quickly, especially in a badly injured child. Other times, it may take a few days for brain swelling to show symptoms. Often the caregiver who shook the child puts the child to bed in the hope that symptoms will get better with rest. By the time the child gets to a doctor, the child needs urgent care. In some cases, the child may be in a coma before a caregiver seeks help.

Shaken children may also have other signs of abuse, such as broken bones, bruises, or burns.

Shaken baby syndrome can be hard to detect, because often there aren't clear signs of abuse. A baby may vomit, have a poor appetite, or be fussy or sluggish. These symptoms may at first seem related to an infection, such as the flu or meningitis. Sadly, you may not find out that shaken baby syndrome caused your child's injury until repeated abuse or more severe harm occurs.

Doctors check for shaken baby syndrome in several ways. They ask for a child's medical history. They may also do a physical exam and blood tests. Imaging tests such as X-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI can look for bleeding or other injury in the brain.

A doctor may also do tests to rule out other conditions. For example, a lumbar puncture checks a baby's spinal fluid for signs of meningitis. Blood found in this sample could point to a shaking injury.

A doctor who suspects shaken baby syndrome must report it to the local child welfare office and police.

If you suspect child abuse and the child is not in immediate danger, call local child protective services or the police. Do not confront the person who may have abused the child. This may cause more harm to the child.

A child with shaken baby syndrome needs to be in the hospital, sometimes in an intensive care unit (ICU). Oxygen therapy may be used to help the child breathe. Doctors may give the child medicine to help ease brain swelling. Sometimes a cooling mattress will help lower the child's body temperature and reduce brain swelling too. A child who has severe bleeding in the brain may need surgery.

Depending on the symptoms, doctors may try seizure medicine, physical therapy, or other treatments.

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