Article Text

Which clinical features distinguish inflicted from non-inflicted brain injury? A systematic review
  1. S Maguire1,
  2. N Pickerd1,
  3. D Farewell2,
  4. M Mann3,
  5. V Tempest1,
  6. A M Kemp1
  1. 1
    Child Health, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
  2. 2
    Department of Primary Care and Public Health, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
  3. 3
    Support Unit for Research Evidence, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
  1. Correspondence to S Maguire, Child Health, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Heath Park, Cardiff CF14 4XN, UK; sabinemaguire{at}


Aim: A systematic review of the scientific literature to define clinical indicators distinguishing inflicted (iBI) from non-inflicted brain injury (niBI).

Methods: An all language literature search of 20 electronic databases, websites, references and bibliographies from 1970–2008 was carried out. Relevant studies were independently reviewed by two trained reviewers, with a third review where required. Inclusion criteria included primary comparative studies of iBI and niBI in children aged <18 years, with high surety of diagnosis describing key clinical features. Multilevel logistic regression analysis was conducted, determining the positive predictive value (PPV) and odds ratios (OR) with p values for retinal haemorrhage, rib/long bone/skull fractures, apnoea, seizures and bruising to head/neck.

Results: 8151 studies were identified, 320 were reviewed and 14 included, representing 1655 children, 779 with iBI. Gender was not a discriminatory feature. In a child with intracranial injury, apnoea (PPV 93%, OR 17.06, p<0.001) and retinal haemorrhage (PPV 71%, OR 3.504, p = 0.03) were the features most predictive of iBI. Rib fractures (PPV 73%, OR 3.03, p = 0.13) had a similar PPV to retinal haemorrhages, but there were less data for analysis. Seizures and long bone fractures were not discriminatory, and skull fracture and head/neck bruising were more associated with niBI, although not significantly so.

Conclusions: This systematic review shows that apnoea and retinal haemorrhage have a high odds ratio for association with iBI. This review identifies key features that should be recorded in the assessment of children where iBI is suspected and may help clinicians to define the likelihood of iBI.

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  • Funding Funding was provided by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the Welsh Assembly Government Research and Development Office (WORD).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and Peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • ▸ An additional appendix is published online only at

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