Extra-axial haemorrhages in young children with skull fractures: abuse or accident?

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Objective: Infant and toddler subdural haemorrhages (SDH) are often considered indicative of abuse or major trauma. However, accidental impact events, such as falls, cause contact extra-axial haemorrhages (EAHs). The current study sought to determine frequency and clinical behaviour of EAHs with infant and toddler accidental and abusive skull fractures.

Patients and methods: Children aged <4 years with accidental skull fractures and abusive fractures identified by CT at two paediatric tertiary care centres. Clinical data were abstracted by child abuse paediatricians and images were reviewed by paediatric radiologists. Data were analysed using univariate and multivariate logistic regression as well as descriptive statistics.

Results: Among 227 subjects, 86 (37.9%) had EAHs. EAH was present in 73 (34.8%) accidental and 13 (76.5%) of the abusive injuries. Intracranial haemorrhage rates were not different for children with major or minor accidents but were fewer than abused. EAH was equally common with falls <4 and >4 ft. EAH depths did not differ by mechanism, but 69% of accidental EAHs were localised solely at fracture sites vs 38% abuse. Widespread and multifocal EAHs were more common with abuse. Children with abuse or major accidental injuries presented with lower initial Glasgow Coma Scales than those with minor accidents. Abused children had initial loss of consciousness more often than those with either minor or major accidents.

Conclusions: Simple contact EAHs were common among children with minor and major accidental skull fractures. Accidental EAHs were more localised with less neurological dysfunction than abusive.

Keywords: child abuse; neurosurgery.