Pediatric Central Nervous System Imaging of Nonaccidental Trauma: Beyond Subdural Hematomas

Radiographics. Jan-Feb 2019;39(1):213-228. doi: 10.1148/rg.2019180084. Epub 2018 Nov 23.


Infants and children under 2 years of age are at greatest risk for devastating neurologic complications following nonaccidental trauma. While a subdural hematoma (SDH) is the most common finding and is often enough to raise suspicion for abuse, no single injury is pathognomonic for abusive head trauma (AHT). Rather, the combination of imaging and physical findings and the clinical presentation help confirm the diagnosis of AHT. Familiarity with the spectrum of findings and proper identification of the imaging abnormalities is important for the radiologist to facilitate treatment and removal of the patient from the abusive environment. Injury is usually a result of shaking, which includes hyperflexion, hyperextension, and rotational forces, and less commonly impact trauma or a combination of both. Key anatomic features unique to the infant's head, neck, and spine and associated biomechanical forces are responsible for entities such as hypoxic ischemic injury, bridging vein thrombosis, SDH, parenchymal lacerations, and spinal and retinal injuries. Although the association of subpial hemorrhage with AHT has not been investigated, it warrants attention in very young infants who endure accidental or inflicted trauma. A combination of CT of the head and MRI of the brain and cervical spine aids in the accurate diagnosis, appropriate management, and subsequent protection of these patients. ©RSNA, 2018.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / etiology
  • Female
  • Hematoma, Subdural / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Shaken Baby Syndrome / diagnostic imaging
  • Skull Fractures / diagnostic imaging
  • Thrombosis / diagnostic imaging