Evaluation of nonaccidental trauma in infants presenting with skull fractures: a retrospective review

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  • 1 Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine;
  • | 2 Departments of Neurological Surgery and
  • | 3 Surgery, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center;
  • | 4 and Divisions of Pediatric Surgery and
  • | 5 Pediatric Neurosurgery, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio
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OBJECTIVE

Nonaccidental trauma (NAT) is one of the leading causes of serious injury and death among young children in the United States, with a high proportion of head injury. Numerous studies have demonstrated the safety of discharge of infants with isolated skull fractures (ISFs); however, these same studies have noted that those infants with suspected abuse should not be immediately discharged. The authors aimed to create a standardized protocol for evaluation of infants presenting with skull fractures to our regional level I pediatric trauma center to best identify children at risk.

METHODS

A protocol for evaluation of NAT was developed by our pediatric trauma committee, which consists of evaluation by neurosurgery, pediatric surgery, and ophthalmology, as well as the pediatric child protection team. Social work evaluations and a skeletal survey were also utilized. Patients presenting over a 2-year period, inclusive of all infants younger than 12 months at the time of presentation, were assessed. Factors at presentation, protocol compliance, and the results of the workup were evaluated to determine how to optimize identification of children at risk.

RESULTS

A total of 45 infants with a mean age at presentation of 5.05 months (SD 3.14 months) were included. The most common stated mechanism of injury was a fall (75.6%), followed by an unknown mechanism (22.2%). The most common presenting symptoms were swelling over the fracture site (25 patients, 55.6%), followed by vomiting (5 patients, 11.1%). For the entire population of patients with skull fractures, there was suspicion of NAT in 24 patients (53.3% of the cohort). Among the 30 patients with ISFs, there was suspicion of NAT in 13 patients (43.3% of the subgroup).

CONCLUSIONS

Infants presenting with skull fractures with intracranial findings and ISFs had a substantial rate of concern for the possibility of nonaccidental skull fracture. Although prior studies have demonstrated the relative safety of discharging infants with ISFs, it is critical to establish an appropriate standardized protocol to evaluate for infants at risk of abusive head trauma.

ABBREVIATIONS

CPT = child protection team; DCFS = Department of Children and Family Services; ED = emergency department; ISF = isolated skull fracture; NAT = nonaccidental trauma; PICU = pediatric intensive care unit.

Illustration from Seaman et al. (pp 260–267). Copyright Jane Whitney. Published with permission.

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