Shaken Baby Syndrome and Traumatic Brain Injury

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The first thing said is usually “The baby wouldn’t stop crying”, and then his babysitter, nanny, sibling, or even his mother or father continue on to say the worst possible thing next; “I shook him to quiet him down”. The end result is “Shaken Baby Syndrome”, a despicable crime usually borne of ignorance. The victim, a defenseless baby, ends up brain damaged or even dies. The mechanism of Shaken Baby Syndrome and Traumatic Brain Injury (“TBI”) are identical. Our brain exists in a closed, bony environment, the skull. When our body is subjected to a sudden force, our brain can bounce against our skull. This is commonly known as a concussion. If the force is sufficient, the brain can be injured. In extreme cases the injury is apparent, with obvious signs including seizures, coma, loss of consciousness, dizziness and visual disturbances.

That same force exists in almost every accident, and if it involves our head, can cause brain damage. Where the force to the brain is not extreme, the victim of an accident can still have a TBI. People tend to think brain injury can’t happen without unconsciousness or a direct blow to the head. Neither unconsciousness nor a blow to the head are actually necessary to cause a TBI. Any sudden and drastic G-forces can cause the brain damage in a “Second Impact” where the brain crashes into the inside of the skull. Flexion/extension of the neck and head, seen in many accidents, but most recognizably in hit-in-the rear automobile collisions, can cause our brain to come in contact with our skull. Where the force is less than extreme, the signs of TBI can be subtle and virtually invisible. As a result, TBI can go undiagnosed for months and sometimes forever. Interestingly, the diagnosis of a subtle TBI often starts with a family member telling the doctor, “They’re just not right, they’re acting differently since the accident”.

Remember, one of the characteristics of TBI is that the victim may not recognize that there is anything wrong or different going on. Here’s a checklist to review if you believe there may be a chance of a traumatic brain injury:

–        Is there any change in personality? Do they become angry for no good reason?

–        Do they have trouble concentrating or finding words?

–        Do they complain of occasional dizziness, headaches, or nausea?

There are many other signs – too many to list. If after an accident, your family member seems “a little bit off” it’s a good idea to see a neurologist. TBI is treatable, and like many injuries the sooner it is addressed, the better the chance of improvement.