What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?
Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is an injurious condition caused by the shaking of an infant or child. The action of rapidly shaking an infant or child causes the sudden forward, backward and sideway motion of the head. During the shaking action the brain is injured from hitting against the inside of the bony skull, causing inflammation, bleeding, separation of vessels and nerve fibers in the soft brain tissue on all sides of the brain. The brain of an infant or child is very soft because it has more water content and it is easier to injure than an adult brain. Therefore, less energy is required to cause lethal injury to an infant or child’s brain. In SBS, the eyes may get injured by the sudden increase in pressure and motion around the soft tissues that make up the delicate structure of the eyes. After the shaking, the brain and the eyes bleed inside the confined spaces they are contained in. This bleeding causes high pressure to build within the head and eyes. The damage caused by shaking the head, brain and eye structures and the increasing high pressure that follows causes permanent injury or death for the infant or child. If death does not occur the infant or child may be left with permanent brain damage, blindness, neuromuscular disability, paralysis, deafness, learning disabilities and/or a seizure disorder.
What causes SBS?
Factors may be present that cause adults and their infants and children to be more at risk for abusive events such as SBS. Infants at risk include infants less than one year age, male infants, infants of twin or multiple births, premature infants, infants with health problems and infants that have inconsolable crying spells. Adults at risk for committing abusive acts include adults with poor coping skills, unrealistic expectations, substance abuse, former victims of abuse and adults with mental health problems. Environmental factors that usually culminate in abusive events include social isolation, dysfunctional family characteristics and socio-economic burdens. However, SBS may occur in any setting and it is important to know the signs and symptoms that may be present in an infant or child that may be a victim of SBS.
What are the signs and symptoms of SBS?
The common signs and symptoms of SBS include poor feeding, failure to thrive, vomiting, weakness, irritability, a change in overall muscle tone, decreased alertness, seizures, pale skin color, cool skin temperature, difficulty breathing and sudden respiratory or cardiac arrest. The fontanelles may be swollen depending on the age of the infant. It is important to remember that there may be no bruising, scrapes or outward physical signs of trauma. There may be only a change in behavior as described in the first sentence. It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.