Macrocephaly in infancy: benign enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces and subdural collections

J Neurosurg Pediatr. 2016 Jul;18(1):16-20. doi: 10.3171/2015.12.PEDS15600. Epub 2016 Mar 4.


OBJECTIVE Benign enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces (BESS) is a common finding on imaging studies indicated by macrocephaly in infancy. This finding has been associated with the presence of subdural fluid collections that are sometimes construed as suggestive of abusive head injury. The prevalence of BESS among infants with macrocephaly and the prevalence of subdural collections among infants with BESS are both poorly defined. The goal of this study was to determine the relative frequencies of BESS, hydrocephalus, and subdural collections in a large consecutive series of imaging studies performed for macrocephaly and to determine the prevalence of subdural fluid collections among patients with BESS. METHODS A text search of radiology requisitions identified studies performed for macrocephaly in patients ≤ 2 years of age. Studies of patients with hydrocephalus or acute trauma were excluded. Studies that demonstrated hydrocephalus or chronic subdural hematoma not previously recognized but responsible for macrocephaly were noted but not investigated further. The remaining studies were reviewed for the presence of incidental subdural collections and for measurement of the depth of the subarachnoid space. A 3-point scale was used to grade BESS: Grade 0, < 5 mm; Grade 1, 5-9 mm; and Grade 2, ≥ 10 mm. RESULTS After exclusions, there were 538 studies, including 7 cases of hydrocephalus (1.3%) and 1 large, bilateral chronic subdural hematoma (0.2%). There were incidental subdural collections in 21 cases (3.9%). Two hundred sixty-five studies (49.2%) exhibited Grade 1 BESS, and 46 studies (8.6%) exhibited Grade 2 BESS. The prevalence of incidental subdural collections among studies with BESS was 18 of 311 (5.8%). The presence of BESS was associated with a greater prevalence of subdural collections, and higher grades of BESS were associated with increasing prevalence of subdural collections. After controlling for imaging modality, the odds ratio of the association of BESS with subdural collections was 3.68 (95% CI 1.12-12.1, p = 0.0115). There was no association of race, sex, or insurance status with subdural collections. Patients with BESS had larger head circumference Z-scores, but there was no association of head circumference or age with subdural collections. Interrater reliability in the diagnosis and grading of BESS was only fair. CONCLUSIONS The current study confirms the association of BESS with incidental subdural collections and suggests that greater depth of the subarachnoid space is associated with increased prevalence of such collections. These observations support the theory that infants with BESS have a predisposition to subdural collections on an anatomical basis. Incidental subdural collections in the setting of BESS are not necessarily indicative of abusive head injury.

Keywords: BESS; BESS = benign enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces; SSFSE = single-shot fast spin echo; US = ultrasound; abusive head injury; benign enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces; hydrocephalus; macrocephaly; subdural collection.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Megalencephaly / diagnostic imaging*
  • Megalencephaly / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Subarachnoid Space / diagnostic imaging*
  • Subdural Space / diagnostic imaging*