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A better way to diagnose Shaken Baby Syndrome

Doctors have devised a better way to diagnose Shaken Baby Syndrome, reports NPR. Previously, courts used three hallmark symptoms – bleeding and swelling in the brain and retinal bleeding in the eyes, but in recent years, defense experts have claimed that falls, accidents or other undiagnosed medical conditions can cause the same symptoms, winning freedom for suspected child abusers.

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So researchers developed and proved a tool doctors can use to distinguish between head injuries from abuse and those from accidents or medical conditions.

The tool is basic: listing rib fracture, seizures, long-bone fractures, bruises on the head or neck, periods of not breathing called apnea and bleeding in the retina of the eyes. The more of these injuries seen in a child, the more likely the case resulted from abuse.

Researchers used medical records and child protection files of 198 babies with head trauma to see how well the tool identified child abuse. Extensive investigations had already established whether the children had been abused. Results produced by the tool mirrored findings by investigators, verifying spot-on accuracy.

“Part of the challenge is that there is no gold standard for making a diagnosis of child abuse – you can’t do a blood test,” Cindy Christian, chair of both Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, told NPR. “It’s always going to be a clinical diagnosis with social investigation. A bruise is a bruise. A broken bone is a broken bone. … There are certain injuries that are much more highly correlated with abuse, and there aren’t very many things that cause these together.”

More than a half million U.S. children suffer abuse each year, including approximately 30 cases of abusive head trauma among every 100,000 infants, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Each year about 80 children die from abusive head trauma. They are among the 1,500 children who die each year from abuse or neglect in the U.S.

Read more about the science and the report here.

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