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Medical Community Finds Shaken Baby Syndrome to be Evidence-Based Diagnosis, Despite Controversy

9/19/2017

Questions are sometimes raised about the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome – or abusive head trauma – often in relation to possible wrongful conviction cases. Pediatric experts discuss why the science supports the syndrome during the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition

 

CHICAGO – While the veracity of shaken baby syndrome has been questioned in some media reports and as a courtroom defense, no controversy exists within the medical profession: Physicians agree that the diagnosis is scientifically valid.

That message is the topic of a plenary, "Shaken Baby Syndrome: Science vs. Myth," that will be delivered by Sandeep Narang, MD, JD, FAAP, during the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition.

Dr. Narang, head of the Child Abuse Pediatrics Division at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, will speak from 11:10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, in McCormick Place West, Skyline Ballroom.

Dr. Narang said there is a misperception that the medical community has shifted in its certainty over the diagnosis. But in 2016, he and his colleagues surveyed physicians who evaluate injured children at 10 leading children's hospitals to assess their acceptance of shaken baby syndrome and abusive head trauma as medical diagnoses. Eighty-eight percent of the 628 physicians who responded considered shaken baby syndrome to be a valid diagnosis, and 93% said abusive head trauma was a valid diagnosis.

In addition, a large majority of physicians said that shaking a baby, with or without impact, was likely or highly likely to result in subdural hematoma, severe retinal hemorrhages and coma or death.

Dr. Narang believes the questions raised come from a small but vocal number of people who have been drawn to stories of possibly wrongfully convicted or wrongfully accused individuals based on a mistaken medical diagnosis. But disagreements over the shaken baby syndrome diagnosis bear a large resemblance to the other medical "debates," in which there is actually a large body of evidence supporting one side, according to Dr. Narang, a member of the AAP Committee on Medical Liability and Risk Management and Section on Child Abuse and Neglect.

 "You simply have people who are unwilling to accept the large body of data or evidence," he said.

 

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.