Patients and methods: In this retrospective study, 36 children referred to paediatric neurology and neurosurgery during April 1995-June 1998 with a diagnosis of subdural haematoma (SDH) were studied. Nine were accidental secondary to witnessed trauma and 4 were iatrogenic. Non-accidental head injury (NAHI) was suspected in the remaining 23 children.
Results: After a full clinical, radiological and social assessment, NAHI was diagnosed in 14, lateral sinus thrombosis in 1, 2 were accepted as accidental and 6 remained unexplained. In the NAHI group (n=14), 12 were between 4 and 16 weeks of age, 12 (85%) had retinal haemorrhages and skeletal surveys showed evidence of additional injury in 8. Computerised tomography (CT) brain scans showed bilateral SDH in 11, and 6 had inter-hemispheric bleeding along with loss of grey-white differentiation. Eleven had magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which yielded additional information in 7. Seven required intensive care, and 2 died. Twelve had surgical aspiration. In the group with no satisfactory explanation for SDH ( n=6); 5 had neonatal problems, all except 1 were older than 5 months of age and not as ill with bilateral, old SDH. All but 1 had skeletal surveys, which were normal, and eye examination showed no retinal haemorrhages. A social services enquiry was non-contributory.
Conclusions: SDH is frequently traumatic whether accidental or non-accidental. SDH due to NAHI tends to present before 4 months of age with an inconsistent history; the patients are more seriously ill and have other findings, such as fractures and retinal haemorrhages. A small subgroup of patients was identified who had isolated, old SDH and in whom full investigation remained inconclusive. A consistent, comprehensive approach needs to be maintained in all cases with the essential backup of detailed neuro-imaging including MRI.