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Kenneth W. Feldman, Naomi F. Sugar and Samuel R. Browd


At presentation, children who have experienced abusive head trauma (AHT) often have subdural hemorrhage (SDH) that is acute, chronic, or both. Controversy exists whether the acute SDH associated with chronic SDH results from trauma or from spontaneous rebleeding. The authors compared the clinical presentations of children with AHT and acute SDH with those having acute and chronic SDH (acute/chronic SDH).


The study was a multicenter retrospective review of children who had experienced AHT during 2004–2009. The authors compared the clinical and radiological characteristics of children with acute SDH to those of children with acute/chronic SDH.


The study included 383 children with AHT and either acute SDH (n = 291) or acute/chronic SDH (n = 92). The children with acute/chronic SDH were younger, had higher initial Glasgow Coma Scale scores, fewer deaths, fewer skull fractures, less parenchymal brain injury, and fewer acute noncranial fractures than did children with acute SDH. No between-group differences were found for the proportion with retinal hemorrhages, healing noncranial fractures, or acute abusive bruises. A similar proportion (approximately 80%) of children with acute/chronic SDH and with acute SDH had retinal hemorrhages or acute or healing extracranial injures. Of children with acute/chronic SDH, 20% were neurologically asymptomatic at presentation; almost half of these children were seen for macrocephaly, and for all of them, the acute SDH was completely within the area of the chronic SDH.


Overall, the presenting clinical and radiological characteristics of children with acute SDH and acute/chronic SDH caused by AHT did not differ, suggesting that repeated abuse, rather than spontaneous rebleeding, is the etiology of most acute SDH in children with chronic SDH. However, more severe neurological symptoms were more common among children with acute SDH. Children with acute/chronic SDH and asymptomatic macrocephaly have unique risks and distinct radiological and clinical characteristics.