The role of cranial MRI in identifying patients suffering from child abuse and presenting with unexplained neurological findings

Child Abuse Negl. 1999 Mar;23(3):217-28. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(98)00128-8.


Objective: The aim of this study was to demonstrate the usefulness of cerebral MRI to detect possible child abuse in children with unexplained neurologic findings.

Method: Between 1990 and 1997, 208 children were referred for suspected physical child abuse to the Child Protection Clinic of Ste-Justine Hospital, a tertiary care pediatric hospital. Among them, 39 children presented initially with neurological findings. For 27 of them, the CT Scan results prompted the diagnosis of child abuse. However, in 12 children, even if a CT-Scan was performed, the diagnosis and/or the mechanisms of the neurologic distress remained obscure. Investigation was completed with MRI study in those 12 cases.

Results: MRI findings were diagnostic for physical abuse in eight cases. A diagnosis of child abuse was made in two more cases by a combination of MRI and skeletal survey findings. In one case, MRI was suggestive but the diagnosis of child abuse could not be confirmed. One case was misinterpreted as normal.

Conclusions: MRI is the test of choice to rule out child abuse when faced with a child presenting unexplained neurologic signs lasting for few days. The fact that MRI can better differentiate collections of different ages makes this imaging test particularly useful in identifying cases of child abuse. These results, however, always have to be integrated in a well conducted multidisciplinary clinical approach.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology*
  • Child Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnosis
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / etiology*
  • Female
  • Hematoma, Subdural / diagnosis
  • Hematoma, Subdural / etiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Sleep Stages
  • Status Epilepticus / etiology