Understanding Shaken Baby Syndrome

Suzanne Franklin Carbaugh, RNC, MS, APRN, NNP


Adv Neonatal Care. 2004;4(2) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Health care professionals involved in the care of infants are in an ideal position to identify and to educate families, the public, and other health care professionals about the risk factors, dangers, and consequences of infant shaking. The purpose of this article is to review the incidence, biomechanics, risk factors, clinical presentation, diagnosis, and prognosis of shaken baby syndrome (SBS), as well as to encourage involvement in SBS prevention through the use of a family teaching tool. Education is essential to decrease the incidence, morbidity, and mortality of SBS.

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) resulting in head injury is the leading cause of death and the most common cause of long-term disability and permanent damage in physically abused infants and children.[1,2] The immediate and long-term outcomes of head injury caused by SBS are worse than head injuries from other causes.[2,3] At least 1 of every 4 victims die, and > 50% have some type of residual neurological or visual impairment, or both.[2,4]

In 2000 approximately 1200 children died of neglect or abuse; 44% were infants < 1 year of age.[5] The majority of deaths related to head injuries in children < 2 years old were a result of non-accidental trauma.[3,4] The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome reported that > 500 SBS cases, either fatal or nonfatal, occurred in the U.S., the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands from 1994-1998. The response rate in this study was only 42% (46 out of 113 surveys) and only 46% of the respondents reported survivors of SBS.[6] Since cases with less serious injuries may not receive medical attention, or may go undetected, and no central SBS reporting registry is available, the actual incidence of SBS is unknown and likely underestimated.[1,2,4,6]


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