Head Trauma in Abused Kids Can Have Lifelong Impact

Shortened lifespan, disability often come in wake of these injuries

MONDAY, Nov. 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Half of children who experience a severe abusive head trauma before the age of 5 will die before they turn 21, and among those who survive severe injuries, quality of life will be cut in half, according to new research. The findings were published online Nov. 17 in Pediatrics.

Ted Miller, Ph.D., 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 5 years old. But, most -- about eight in 10 -- experienced the head trauma before they were 1 year old.

Miller told HealthDay that he was surprised by the impact of even the minor cases, which included only 16 percent of the cases overall. Another 13.5 percent involved moderate injuries, but the majority (71 percent) were severe, the study authors reported. Almost one-quarter of children required a feeding tube, and 57 percent were blind or legally blind. Among the severe cases, 86 percent of the children lost their sight or needed corrective eye surgery, the report indicated. The researchers calculated that 69,925 years of combined life and disability-free life were lost due to abusive head trauma injuries to children in 2009. 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.

Miller said the highest-risk period for shaken baby syndrome is the "period of PURPLE crying," a term coined by study coauthor Ronald Barr, M.D., from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. 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.

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