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Shaken Baby Syndrome - Topic Overview

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.

Children can die from their injuries. Those who survive may have brain and vision problems that can last forever. These problems can include:

  • Seizures, which are sudden bursts of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. A baby may have uncontrolled muscle movement and be unable to speak, see, or interact normally.
  • Cerebral palsy, with muscle stiffness (spasticity) that results in stiff, awkward movements.
  • Intellectual disabilities that can affect every area of a child's life, such as learning to talk or being able to care for himself or herself in the future.
  • Blindness or trouble seeing.
  • Physical or emotional growth delays.
  • Learning or behavior problems that may not appear until the child starts school.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about shaken baby syndrome:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

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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.
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