Occult intracranial injury in infants

Ann Emerg Med. 1998 Dec;32(6):680-6. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(98)70067-8.


Study objectives: The objectives of this study were as follows: (1) to determine whether clinical symptoms and signs of brain injury are sensitive indicators of intracranial injury (ICI) in infants admitted with head trauma, (2) to describe the clinical characteristics of infants who have ICI in the absence of symptoms and signs of brain injury, and (3) to determine the clinical significance of those ICIs diagnosed in asymptomatic infants.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective analysis of all infants younger than 2 years of age admitted to a tertiary care pediatric hospital with acute ICI during a 6(1/2)-year period. Infants were considered symptomatic if they had loss of consciousness, history of behavior change, seizures, vomiting, bulging fontanel, retinal hemorrhages, abnormal neurologic examination, depressed mental status, or irritability. All others were considered to have occult ICI.

Results: Of 101 infants studied, 19 (19%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 12%, 28%) had occult ICI. Fourteen of 52 (27%) infants younger than 6 months of age had occult ICI, compared with 5 of 34 (15%) infants 6 months to 1 year, and none of 15 (0%) infants older than 1 year. Eighteen (95%) infants with occult ICI had scalp contusion or hematoma, and 18 (95%) had skull fracture. Nine (47%) infants with occult ICI received therapy for the ICI. No infants with occult ICI (0%) (95% CI 0, 14%) required surgery or medical management for increased intracranial pressure. Only 1 subject (5%) with occult ICI had any late symptoms or complications: a brief, self-limited convulsion.

Conclusion: We found that 19 of 101 ICIs in infants admitted with head trauma were clinically occult. All 19 occult ICIs occurred in infants younger than 12 months of age, and 18 of 19 had skull fractures. None experienced serious neurologic deterioration or required surgical intervention. Physicians cannot depend on the absence of clinical signs of brain injury to exclude ICI in infants younger than 1 year of age.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Age Factors
  • Brain Injuries / complications
  • Brain Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Irritable Mood
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking
  • Physical Examination / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retinal Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Seizures / etiology
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Unconsciousness / etiology
  • Vomiting / etiology