Abusive Head Trauma Has Lifelong Impact on Children

HealthDay News — Fifty percent of children that experience severe abusive head trauma before age 5 will die before age 21, while the quality of life of those that survive will be cut in half, according to a study published in Pediatrics.

Ted Miller, PhD, of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Calverton, Md., and colleagues noted that 334 U.S. children died within 30 days of an abusive head trauma in 2009. These numbers came from vital statistics data from a national inpatient database.

For the new study, the researchers surveyed parents, caregivers, or pediatricians of 170 children who survived an abusive head trauma to determine the victims’ quality of life. The head traumas all occurred before the children were aged 5 years. Most, about eight in 10, experienced the head trauma before they were aged1 year.

Miller told HealthDay that he was surprised by the impact of even the minor cases, which included only 16% of the cases overall. Another 13.5% involved moderate injuries, but the majority (71%) were severe, the study authors reported.

Almost one-quarter of children required a feeding tube, and 57% were blind or legally blind. Among the severe cases, 86% of the children lost their sight or needed corrective eye surgery, the report indicated.

Overall, 69,925 years of combined life and disability-free life were lost due to abusive head trauma injuries to children in 2009, the researchers calculated. Individuals who had a mild or moderate injury lost about 5 years of disability-free life. Those with severe injuries lost 24 years of disability-free life.

The highest-risk period for shaken baby syndrome is the “period of PURPLE crying,” a term coined by study author Ronald Barr, MD, from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, Miller said. PURPLE stands for each of the characteristics of the crying: peaking in their second month, unexpected, resists soothing, pain-like face, long-lasting, and occurring in the evening.


  1. Miller TR et al. Pediatrics. 2014; doi:10.1542/peds.2014-1385.