A systematic review of abusive visceral injuries in childhood--their range and recognition

Child Abuse Negl. 2013 Jul;37(7):430-45. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2012.10.009. Epub 2013 Jan 7.


Objectives: To define what abusive visceral injuries occur, including their clinical features and the value of screening tests for abdominal injury among abused children.

Methods: We searched 12 databases, with snowballing techniques, for the period 1950-2011, with all identified studies undergoing two independent reviews by trained reviewers, drawn from pediatrics, radiology, pediatric surgery and pathology. Of 5802 studies identified, 188 were reviewed. We included studies of children aged 0-18, with confirmed abusive etiology, whose injury was defined by computed tomography, contrast studies or at surgery/post mortem. We excluded injuries due to sexual abuse, or those exclusively addressing management or outcome.

Results: Of 88 included studies (64 addressing abdominal injuries), only five were comparative. Every organ in the body has been injured, intra-thoracic injuries were commoner in those aged less than five years. Children with abusive abdominal injuries were younger (2.5-3.7 years vs. 7.6-10.3 years) than accidentally injured children. Duodenal injuries were commonly recorded in abused children, particularly involving the third or fourth part, and were not reported in accidentally injured children less than four years old. Liver and pancreatic injuries were frequently recorded, with potential pancreatic pseudocyst formation. Abdominal bruising was absent in up to 80% of those with abdominal injuries, and co-existent injuries included fractures, burns and head injury. Post mortem studies revealed that a number of the children had sustained previous, unrecognized, abdominal injuries. The mortality from abusive abdominal injuries was significantly higher than accidental injuries (53% vs. 21%). Only three studies addressed screening for abdominal injury among abused children, and were unsuitable for meta-analysis due to lack of standardized investigations, in particular those with 'negative' screening tests were not consistently investigated.

Conclusions: Visceral injuries may affect any organ of the body, predominantly abdominal viscera. A non-motor vehicle related duodenal trauma in a child aged<five years warrants consideration of abuse as an etiology. In the absence of clear evidence for a screening strategy, clinical vigilance is warranted in any young child with suspected abuse for the presence of abdominal injury, where the absence of abdominal bruising or specific symptoms does not preclude significant injury.

Keywords: Abdominal injury; Duodenal trauma; Screening tests; Systematic review; Visceral injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Injuries* / diagnostic imaging
  • Abdominal Injuries* / mortality
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Child Abuse / mortality
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mass Screening
  • Radiography
  • Viscera / injuries*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnosis*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / mortality