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Shaken baby syndrome: symptoms, causes and treatment

Shaken baby syndrome: symptoms, causes and treatment

October 4, 2022

A large part of the population has the desire to have children. Being a father or mother is a dream for many, to whom the idea of ​​raising, educating, giving affection and ultimately helping a fragile and vulnerable being to grow and see the world is exciting and motivating. Most people experience the will to protect children.

However, some parents mistreat their children by carrying out actions such as shaking them violently when they cry continuously in order to silence them. This type of abuse can lead to severe brain damage in an organism as fragile as a baby. This is what happens in cases of shaken baby syndrome .


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The shaken baby syndrome

It is called shaken baby syndrome to the set of symptoms presented by babies who have been shaken (usually caused by the performance of an adult) without external trauma, these symptoms being the result of an intracranial injury product of having been violently shaken.

The shaking has as a consequence that a brain injury is generated that can become very severe. is capable of causing the death of the baby (in fact it is one of the most frequent causes of infant mortality), or sequels of considerable seriousness. This syndrome tends to appear in babies less than three years of age.


While the injuries can be variable , it is generally considered that there are three that occur in the majority of cases of this syndrome and that allow its diagnosis: retinal hemorrhage, encephalopathy or brain damage (such as diffuse axonal damage) and subdural hematoma. Hydrocephalus is also common.

The symptoms of these injuries can be very different depending on the areas that are damaged, but usually with diffuse axonal damage . It is common for the baby to begin to suffer epileptic outbreaks, lethargy, hypotonia or loss of muscle tone, anorexia, vomiting or respiratory problems. In addition, they can produce serious long-term sequelae.

Sequelae and symptoms

In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, the damage caused to the brain usually generates serious and permanent sequelae.

Among these sequels are the appearance of intellectual disability of variable severity . It is not strange that cerebral palsy appears. At times, symptoms similar to autism, delays in development and inability to language may also be observed.


As well infections can occur that cause inflammation of the brain and worsen the minor's condition. Also, it is not uncommon for sensory disabilities such as acquired blindness or deafness to appear as well.

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How is it produced?

The most frequent reason for the appearance of shaken baby syndrome, the cause of the shaking, is usually the presence of crying on the part of the baby that one or more adults try to stop with violence. It is usually an unplanned mistreatment . In others it is carried out voluntarily and intentionally.

However, sometimes it has also been seen in some cases where you are trying to revive a baby who has stopped breathing, in car accidents (for example a whiplash even if the minor is wearing the belt) and even in some disorders similar symptoms may appear without the need for shaking (although the latter are detectable). That is why you do not have to assume that they are necessarily the product of mistreatment.

The shaking causes the encephalic mass moves violently and impacts the walls of the skull , as well as damage to the spinal nerves as the child's neck is not strong enough to resist acceleration.

Likewise, it is considered that the problems and injuries arise also due to the presence of hypoxia or decrease of the oxygen that reaches the cerebral regions during the shaking due to the respiratory alterations caused during this and to the damages in the brainstem.

Treatment of this syndrome

The neuronal death that causes the shaken baby syndrome does not present a curative treatment. Over time, some of the symptoms may decrease and in some cases it is possible that a recovery is achieved, but the general forecast is not very positive . However, a quick intervention can go so far to save the life of the child as to diminish the possible consequences.

It is important to drain extravasated blood in internal hemorrhages, as well as excessive cerebrospinal fluid if hydrocephalus appears.As well it is essential to reduce intracranial pressure . This can cause less tissue to be flooded or compressed.

Also, occupational therapy and other types of strategies can be helpful for affected children to recover functions, be stimulated or learn different strategies that can improve their autonomy and quality of life .

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Prevention mechanisms

One of the main methods to stop the appearance of this syndrome is the establishment of preventive measures. In many cases the parents shake the baby because they do not know what causes them to cry and they do not know how to stop it.

Prevention must be done through social awareness and information about the effects (although it seems surprising many people do not know the damage that a shaking can cause in a baby).

Try to educate through different programs like the Period of Purple Crying offered by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome can generate that before the baby's cry caregivers are able to establish different strategies such as lulling them, taking them for a walk or putting white sound to reassure them while learning to manage the stress of the adult .

Obviously, in the event that the mistreatment has been voluntary with the purpose of causing harm (such as the product of vicarious violence), legal measures must be imposed, such as distancing the individual from the baby.

Bibliographic references:

  • Nieto, T .; Fernández, S. (2008). Shaken baby syndrome: Is the differential diagnosis possible? Legal and Forensic Clinical Psychopathology, 8; 107-127. Complutense University of Madrid.
  • Rufo, M. (2006). The syndrome of the shaken child. Forensic Medicine Notebooks, 43-44. Malaga.

Shaken Baby Prevention at Riverside (October 2022).


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