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SBS/AHT, is a medico-legal diagnosis in babies and toddlers defined by a triad of symptoms: brain swelling, subdural hemorrhages, and retinal hemorrhages. These symptoms were once thought to be caused by parents violently shaking their babies, but research shows this was and still is an unproven hypothesis.

SBS/AHT was not reviewed by an independent scientific agency until 2016. The review found evidence for SBS/AHT to be “insufficient.” The report states that it would be “incompatible with both doctors’ professional duties and the regulations concerning legal certification” to definitely conclude that a child was shaken when the triad of symptoms are present.

There is no way to determine whether the triad of symptoms is caused by shaking or something different such as an accidental fall or an organic medical problem. Furthermore, actually testing the SBS/ABT hypothesis would require shaking babies, which would likely never be allowed by an ethical review board.

As a result, diagnosing SBS/AHT based on the triad of symptoms is similar to suggesting that because someone has a headache and a runny nose that they must have the flu; realistically, they could have the common cold or simple allergies. They have overlapping symptoms. If someone came into the doctor with a headache and a runny nose, it would be odd to immediately prescribe that person with Tamiflu before further investigating whether those symptoms could be attributed to something else. That is exactly what is happening here and in many SBS/AHT cases: babies or toddlers exhibit the triad of symptoms, and SBS/AHT is diagnosed without considering alternative causes.

MTIP Legal Director, Caiti Carpenter, discusses controversial medico-legal diagnosis Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma:

Relevant MTIP Cases:

Jasmine Eskew

Robert “Dave” Wilkes