Objective. Previous studies of child abuse have used the presenting history as part of the case definition of abuse. Thus, data from these studies cannot be used to determine the diagnostic utility of historical features for identifying cases of abuse. The objective of this study was to determine the diagnostic utility of certain historical features for identifying cases of abusive head trauma.

Methods. We retrospectively studied all children, aged 0 to 3 years, who had acute traumatic intracranial injury and were admitted to a tertiary care pediatric hospital from 1993 to 2000. Cases were categorized as either “definite abuse” or “not definite abuse” on the basis of radiologic, ophthalmologic, and physical examination findings, without regard to the presenting history.

Results. Forty-nine (30%) of 163 children met the criteria for definite abuse. Having no history of trauma had a high specificity (0.97) and positive predictive value (PPV; 0.92) for abuse. Among the subgroup of patients with persistent neurologic abnormality at hospital discharge (n = 34), having a history of no or low-impact trauma had a specificity of 1.0 and a PPV of 1.0 for definite abuse. Injuries were blamed on home resuscitative efforts in 12% of definite abuse cases and 0% of not definite abuse cases. The initial history of trauma was changed in 9% of definite abuse cases, as compared with 0% of not definite abuse cases.

Conclusion. Among young children with a head injury, certain historical features have high specificity and PPV for diagnosing child abuse.

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