Arizona Daily Star

Minor brain bleeding found in 26% of newborns in study

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 01.31.2007

Minor brain hemorrhages occur in about one in four otherwise healthy newborns — a finding that surprised researchers and could help physicians avoid wrongly accusing parents and caregivers of child abuse.

The researchers, whose findings appear in the February issue of the journal Radiology, note that bleeding in an infant's brain is commonly associated with "shaken baby syndrome," an injury that occurs when an infant is shaken violently. Intracranial bleeding, which can cause serious brain damage or even death, is one of the hallmark characteristics of a shaken baby.

That's why physicians at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill were taken aback at results of a radiology study looking into early brain development.

Scan after scan of infants turned up brain bleeding — 26 percent scanned with magnetic resonance imaging showed evidence of such bleeding. Previous studies have found brain bleeding at significantly lower rates.

Dr. J. Keith Smith, a UNC radiologist, said physicians are trained to suspect child abuse when they see intracranial bleeding. But as the bleeds showed up in more and more babies scanned, and those children showed no classic signs of brain injury, Smith and his colleagues concluded that minor bleeding may be relatively common.

Smith, a co-author of the Radiology article, speculates that newer imaging technology has only recently made it possible for doctors to see it.

Researchers found the bleeding is most common in babies delivered vaginally. They think it occurs as the infant's still-flexible skull is compressed while passing through the birth canal.

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