To determine the frequency of child abuse and unintentional injury as a cause of infant and toddler subdural hemorrhage (SDH).


A prospective case series of a level I regional trauma center, regional children's hospital, and county medical examiner's office assessed consecutive children who were ≤36 months old and had SDH. Children who had previously known hemorrhagic disease, previous neurosurgical procedure, previously recognized perinatal brain injury, meningitis, renal dialysis, and severe dehydration were excluded. Concurrent medical, retinal, skeletal, and social work abuse evaluation were measured. Etiologic assessment using predetermined criteria was conducted.


From March 1995 through December 1998, 66 children were admitted with SDH. Abuse was confirmed in 39 (59%), unintentional injury in 15 (23%), and indeterminate cause in 12 (18%). The mean age of abused children was 8.7 ± 8.1 months and of children with unintentional injuries was 19.1 ± 10.0 months. The predominant presenting histories for abusive injury were a minor fall or no mechanism for 33 (84%) of 39 patients. All unintentional injuries resulted from a motor vehicle accident or other documented major trauma. Chronic or mixed acute and chronic SDH were found only in abused children (17 [44%] of 39) and in children whose injuries were indeterminate (8 [67%] of 12), not in children who were unintentionally injured (0 [0%] of 15). Long bone and/or rib fractures were found in 20 (51%) of 39 abused children but in only 1 unintentionally injured child. Retinal bleeding was present in 28 (72%) of 39 of the abused children. Only 1 of the 3 unintentionally injured children who had a retinal examination had bleeding, which was of the type associated with acute increased intracranial pressure.


Nearly one fifth of infant and toddler SDH resulted from unintentional trauma. Of those without obvious unintentional trauma, 76% were corroborated to have been abused. Abused children were younger, more likely to have chronic SDH, and more likely to have multiple associated injuries. Their injury history usually was minor or absent.

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