Injury patterns of child abuse: Experience of two Level 1 pediatric trauma centers

J Pediatr Surg. 2018 May;53(5):1028-1032. doi: 10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2018.02.043. Epub 2018 Feb 10.


Purpose: This study examines non-accidental trauma (NAT) fatalities as a percentage of all injury fatalities and identifies injury patterns in NAT admissions to two level 1 pediatric trauma centers.

Methods: We reviewed all children (<5years old) treated for NAT from 2011 to 2015. Patient demographics, injury sites, and survival were obtained from both institutional trauma registries.

Results: Of 4623 trauma admissions, 557 (12%) were due to NAT. However, 43 (46%) of 93 overall trauma fatalities were due to NAT. Head injuries were the most common injuries sustained (60%) and led to the greatest increased risk of death (RR 5.1, 95% CI 2.0-12.7). Less common injuries that increased the risk of death were facial injuries (14%, RR 2.9, 95% CI 1.6-5.3), abdominal injuries (8%, RR 2.8, 95% CI 1.4-5.6), and spinal injuries (3%, RR 3.9, 95% CI 1.8-8.8). Although 76% of head injuries occurred in infants <1year, children ages 1-4years old with head injuries had a significantly higher case fatality rate (27% vs. 6%, p<0.001).

Conclusion: Child abuse accounts for a large proportion of trauma fatalities in children under 5years of age. Intracranial injuries are common in child abuse and increase the risk of death substantially. Preventing NAT in infants and young children should be a public health priority.

Type of study: Retrospective Review.

Level of evidence: II.

Keywords: Abusive head trauma; Child abuse; Epidemiology; Injury patterns; Non-accidental trauma.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Injuries / epidemiology
  • Abdominal Injuries / etiology*
  • Child Abuse*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / epidemiology
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Registries*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Injuries / epidemiology
  • Spinal Injuries / etiology*
  • Survival Rate / trends
  • Trauma Centers / statistics & numerical data*