Increased intracranial pressure (ICP) has been suggested in legal settings as an alternative cause of retinal hemorrhages (RHs) in young children who may have sustained abusive head trauma. We assessed the prevalence and characteristics of RHs in children with increased ICP.


We conducted a prospective, multicenter study of children <4 years old with newly diagnosed increased ICP as determined by using direct measurement and/or clinical criteria. Infants who were premature, neonates, and suspected survivors of abusive head trauma were excluded on the basis of nonocular findings. Fundus examinations were performed; extent, number, and type of RH in each of 4 distinct retinal zones were recorded.


Fifty-six children (27 boys) were studied (mean age 15.4 months; range 1–43 months). All of the children had elevated ICP that required intervention. One child had papilledema. No child (0%; 95% confidence interval: 0%–6.4%) or eye (0%; 95% confidence interval: 0%–3.3%) was found to have an RH. Causes of increased ICP included hydrocephalus, intraventricular hemorrhage, congenital malformations, malfunctioning shunts, and the presence of intracranial space-occupying lesions.


Although acute increased ICP can present in children with a pattern of peripapillary superficial RHs in the presence of papilledema, our study supports the conclusion that RHs rarely occur in the absence of optic disc swelling and do not present beyond the peripapillary area in the entities we have studied.

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