Many physicians regard the combination of encephalopathy, subdural haemorrhage (SDH), retinal haemorrhage (RH), rib fractures, and classical metaphyseal lesions (CML) as highly specific for abusive head trauma (AHT). However, without observed abuse or other criteria that are independent of these findings, bias risk is high.
Infants subjected for examination under the suspicion of maltreatment during the period 1997-2014 were identified in the National Patient Registry, International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10 SE). The medical records were scrutinized for identification of cases of witnessed or admitted physical abuse by shaking. The main outcome measures were occurrence of SDH, RH, fractures and skin lesions.
All identified 36 infants had been shaken, and for 6, there was information indicating blunt force impact immediately after shaking. In 30 cases, there were no findings of SDH or RH, rib fractures, or CMLs. Six infants had finding(s) suggestive of physical abuse, two with possible acute intracranial pathology. One infant with combined shaking and impact trauma had hyperdense SDH, hyperdense subarachnoid haemorrhage, suspected cortical vein thrombosis, RH, and bruises. Another infant abused by shaking had solely an acute subarachnoid haemorrhage. Both had pre-existing vulnerability. The first was born preterm and had non-specific frontal subcortical changes. The other had bilateral chronic SDH/hygroma.
The present findings do not support the hypothesis that acute SDH or RH can be caused by isolated shaking of a healthy infant. However, they do suggest that abuse by shaking may cause acute intracranial haemorrhage with RH in infants with certain risk factors.