Shaken baby syndrome

Shaken baby syndrome — also known as abusive head trauma, shaken impact syndrome, inflicted head injury or whiplash shake syndrome — is a serious brain injury resulting from forcefully shaking an infant or toddler.

Shaken baby syndrome destroys a child's brain cells and prevents his or her brain from getting enough oxygen. Shaken baby syndrome is a form of child abuse that can result in permanent brain damage or death.

Shaken baby syndrome is preventable. Help is available for parents who are at risk of harming a child. Parents also can educate other caregivers about the dangers of shaken baby syndrome.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Shaken baby syndrome symptoms and signs include:

  • Extreme irritability
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Breathing problems
  • Poor eating
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Coma

Other injuries that may not be initially noticeable include bleeding in the brain and eye, damage to the spinal cord and neck and fractures of the ribs, skull and bones. Evidence of prior child abuse also is common.

In mild cases of shaken baby syndrome, a child may appear normal after being shaken, but over time he or she may develop health, learning or behavior problems.

When to see a doctor

Seek immediate help if you suspect your child has been injured by violent shaking.

Contact your child's doctor or take your child to the nearest emergency room. Getting medical care right away may save your child's life or prevent serious health problems.

Health care professionals are legally required to report all suspected cases of child abuse to state authorities.

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