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Laura K. Brennan, David Rubin, Cindy W. Christian, Ann-Christine Duhaime, Haresh G. Mirchandani and Lucy B. Rorke-Adams

Object

In this study, the authors estimate the prevalence of injuries to the soft tissue of the neck, cervical vertebrae, and cervical spinal cord among victims of abusive head trauma to better understand these injuries and their relationship to other pathophysiological findings commonly found in children with fatal abusive head trauma.

Methods

The population included all homicide victims 2 years of age and younger from the city of Philadelphia, Pennyslvania, who underwent a comprehensive postmortem examination at the Office of the Medical Examiner between 1995 and 2003. A retrospective review of all available postmortem records was performed, and data regarding numerous pathological findings, as well as the patient's clinical history and demographic information, were abstracted. Data were described using means and standard deviations for continuous variables, and frequency and ranges for categorical variables. Chi-square analyses were used to test for the association of neck injuries with different types of brain injury.

Results

The sample included 52 children, 41 (79%) of whom died of abusive head trauma. Of these, 29 (71%) had primary cervical cord injuries: in 21 there were parenchymal injuries, in 24 meningeal hemorrhages, and in 16, nerve root avulsion/dorsal root ganglion hemorrhage were evident. Six children with abusive head trauma had no evidence of an impact to the head, and all 6 had primary cervical spinal cord injury (SCI). No child had a spinal fracture. Six of 29 children (21%) with primary cervical SCIs had soft-tissue (ligamentous or muscular) injuries to the neck, and 14 (48%) had brainstem injuries. There was a significant association of primary cervical SCI with cerebral edema (p = 0.036) but not with hypoxia-ischemia, infarction, or herniation.

Conclusions

Cervical SCI is a frequent but not universal finding in young children with fatal abusive head trauma. In the present study, parenchymal and/or root injury usually occurred without evidence of muscular or ligamentous damage, or of bone dislocation or fracture. Moreover, associated brainstem injuries were not always seen. Although there was a significant association of primary cervical cord injury with cerebral edema, there was no direct relationship to brainstem herniation, hypoxia-ischemia, or infarction. This suggests that cervical spinal trauma is only 1 factor in the pathogenesis of these lesions.

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Heather McKeag, Cindy W. Christian, David Rubin, Carrie Daymont, Avrum N. Pollock and Joanne Wood

Object

Enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces has been theorized as a risk factor for the development of subdural hemorrhage (SDH). As the finding of unexplained SDH in children often raises suspicion for nonaccidental trauma, the possibility of increased risk of SDH in children with enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces has important clinical, social, and legal implications. Therefore, the authors evaluated the frequency of SDH in a cohort of children with enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces.

Methods

The authors identified children younger than 2 years of age who were diagnosed with enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces on MRI or CT scanning in a large primary care network between July 2001 and January 2008. The authors excluded children who had enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces diagnosed on imaging performed for trauma or developmental delay, as well as children with a history of prematurity, diagnosis of intracranial pathology, or metabolic or genetic disorders. Chart review recovered the following data: patient demographics, head circumference, history of head trauma, and head imaging results. For the subset of children with SDH, information regarding evaluation for other injuries, including skeletal survey, ophthalmological examination, and child protection team evaluation, was abstracted.

Results

There were 177 children with enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces who met the inclusion criteria. Subdural hemorrhage was identified in 4 (2.3%) of the 177 children. All of the children with SDH underwent evaluations for suspected nonaccidental trauma, which included consultation by the child protection team, skeletal survey, and ophthalmological examination. Additional injuries (healing rib fractures) were identified in 1 of 4 patients. None of the 4 children had retinal hemorrhages. Only the child with rib fractures was reported to child protective services due to concerns for abuse.

Conclusions

Only a small minority of the patients with enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces had SDH. Evidence of additional injuries concerning for physical abuse were identified in a quarter of the children with enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces and SDH, suggesting that an evaluation for suspected nonaccidental trauma including occult injury screening should be performed in cases of SDH with enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces. In the absence of additional injuries, however, the presence of an unexplained SDH in the setting of enlargement of the subarachnoid spaces may be insufficient to support a diagnosis of nonaccidental trauma.

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Abusive head trauma: evidence, obfuscation, and informed management

JNSPG 75th Anniversary Invited Review Article

Ann-Christine Duhaime and Cindy W. Christian

Abusive head trauma remains the major cause of serious head injury in infants and young children. A great deal of research has been undertaken to inform the recognition, evaluation, differential diagnosis, management, and legal interventions when children present with findings suggestive of inflicted injury. This paper reviews the evolution of current practices and controversies, both with respect to medical management and to etiological determination of the variable constellations of signs, symptoms, and radiological findings that characterize young injured children presenting for neurosurgical care.