Objectives: To assess the frequency of inflicted head injury in critically injured children; the severity of neurologic injury; the neurologic outcome; and the historical, socioeconomic, physical, and radiologic factors associated with inflicted head injury.
Design: Prospective clinical study.
Setting: Multidisciplinary pediatric intensive care unit (ICU).
Patients: Consecutive cases (n = 40) of severe head injury admitted to a pediatric ICU.
Measurements and main results: Fourteen (35%) of 40 cases of head injury were due to inflicted head injury. Eleven (79%) of 14 inflicted head injury cases were due to child abuse and three (21%) were due to neglect. The severity of neurologic injury, as measured by the admission Glasgow Coma Scale, was worse in cases of inflicted head injury (7.1 +/- 0.7 [SE] [inflicted] vs. 9.9 +/- 0.8 [accidental]; p = .04). Glasgow Outcome Scores were worse after inflicted head injury (2 +/- 1 inflicted] vs. 4 +/- 1 [accidental]; p = .004). In victims of child abuse, we found the combination of any two of the following three factors was associated with inflicted head injury: an inconsistent history/physical examination; retinal hemorrhages; or parental risk factors (alcohol or drug abuse, previous social service intervention within the family, or a past history of child abuse or neglect).
Conclusions: This study confirms that severity of neurologic injury and neurologic outcome in cases of inflicted head injury are worse than in any other type of childhood head injury. We believe that a combination of any two of the above three risk factors may prove to be a reliable marker of inflicted head injury in children admitted to a pediatric ICU and will lead to an early and definitive diagnosis.