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JAMA. 1999 Feb 17;281(7):621-6.

Analysis of missed cases of abusive head trauma.

Author information

1
Department of Pediatrics, Brown University School of Medicine, Providence, RI, USA. cjenny@lifespan.org

Erratum in

  • JAMA 1999 Jul 7;282(1):29.

Abstract

CONTEXT:

Abusive head trauma (AHT) is a dangerous form of child abuse that can be difficult to diagnose in young children.

OBJECTIVES:

To determine how frequently AHT was previously missed by physicians in a group of abused children with head injuries and to determine factors associated with the unrecognized diagnosis.

DESIGN:

Retrospective chart review of cases of head trauma presenting between January 1, 1990, and December 31, 1995.

SETTING:

Academic children's hospital.

PATIENTS:

One hundred seventy-three children younger than 3 years with head injuries caused by abuse.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES:

Characteristics of head-injured children in whom diagnosis of AHT was unrecognized and the consequences of the missed diagnoses.

RESULTS:

Fifty-four (31.2%) of 173 abused children with head injuries had been seen by physicians after AHT and the diagnosis was not recognized. The mean time to correct diagnosis among these children was 7 days (range, 0-189 days). Abusive head trauma was more likely to be unrecognized in very young white children from intact families and in children without respiratory compromise or seizures. In 7 of the children with unrecognized AHT, misinterpretation of radiological studies contributed to the delay in diagnosis. Fifteen children (27.8%) were reinjured after the missed diagnosis. Twenty-two (40.7%) experienced medical complications related to the missed diagnosis. Four of 5 deaths in the group with unrecognized AHT might have been prevented by earlier recognition of abuse.

CONCLUSION:

Although diagnosing head trauma can be difficult in the absence of a history, it is important to consider inflicted head trauma in infants and young children presenting with nonspecific clinical signs.

PMID:
10029123
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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