Abusive head trauma: an epidemiological and cost analysis

J Neurosurg Pediatr. 2016 Nov;18(5):542-549. doi: 10.3171/2016.1.PEDS15583. Epub 2016 Jul 12.


OBJECTIVE Research on pediatric abusive head trauma (AHT) has largely focused on clinical presentation and management. The authors sought to review a single-institution experience from a public health perspective to gain a better understanding of the local population affected, determine overall incidence and seasonal trends, and provide details on the initial hospitalization, including extent of injuries, neurosurgical interventions, and hospital charges. METHODS All cases of AHT involving patients who presented to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital (LBCH) from 2009 through 2014 were identified. AHT was defined as skull fracture or intracranial hemorrhage in a child under the age of 5 years with a suspicious mechanism or evidence of other intentional injuries, such as retinal hemorrhages, old or new fractures, or soft-tissue bruising. Injuries were categorized as Grade I (skull fracture only), Grade II (intracranial hemorrhage or edema not requiring surgical intervention), or Grade III (intracranial hemorrhage requiring intervention or death due to brain injury). RESULTS Two hundred thirteen AHT cases were identified. The demographics of the study population are similar to those reported in the literature: the majority of the patients involved were 6 months of age or younger (55%), male (61%), African American (47%), and publicly insured (82%). One hundred one neurosurgical procedures were performed in 58 children, with the most common being bur hole placement for treatment of subdural collections (25%) and decompressive hemicraniectomy (22%). The annual incidence rate rose from 2009 (19.6 cases per 100,000 in the population under 5 years of age) to 2014 (47.4 cases per 100,000) and showed seasonal peaks in January, July, and October (6-year average single-month incidence, respectively, 24.7, 21.7, and 24.7 per 100,000). The total hospital charges were $13,014,584, with a median cost of $27,939. Treatment costs for children who required surgical intervention (i.e., those with Grade III) were up to 10 times those of children with less severe injuries. CONCLUSIONS In the authors' local population, victims of AHT are overwhelmingly infants, are more often male than female, and are disproportionately from lower socioeconomic ranks. The incidence is increasing and initial hospitalization charges are substantial and variable. The authors introduce a simple 3-tiered injury classification scheme that adequately stratifies length of hospital stay and cost.

Keywords: AHT = abusive head trauma; CARES = Child Advocacy Resource and Evaluation Services; CI = confidence interval; LBCH = Le Bonheur Children's Hospital; LOS = length of hospital stay; abusive head trauma; children; non-accidental trauma; pediatric.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Child Abuse / economics*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Costs and Cost Analysis / methods*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnosis
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / economics*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Length of Stay / economics
  • Male
  • Tennessee / epidemiology