Short Falls in Childhood Occasionally Cause Major Brain Injuries Because of Unusual Circumstances : Pediatric Emergency Care

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Short Falls in Childhood Occasionally Cause Major Brain Injuries Because of Unusual Circumstances

Feldman, Kenneth W. MD∗,†,‡; Sokoloff, Michael MD§; Otjen, Jeffrey P. MD∗,∥; Wright, Jason N. MD∗,∥; Lee, Amy MD∗,¶; Ebel, Beth MD∗,‡,#; Blair, Amanda B. MD∗,‡,∗∗

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Pediatric Emergency Care 39(5):p 335-341, May 2023. | DOI: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000002749



Short, early childhood falls rarely cause severe brain injuries or death. However, it is important to recognize that they occasionally occur because of unusual circumstances. We sought to document several such injuries.


Records and imaging were reviewed for children younger than 6 years, hospitalized between 2015 and 2020 for major closed head injuries following less than 4-ft falls. Major injury was defined as intensive care admission more than 2 days, neurosurgical intervention, death, or disability at hospital discharge. Subjects were identified through Seattle and Spokane, Washington abuse consultations. Harborview Medical Center's trauma registry and Seattle Children's Hospital's Hemophilia Treatment Program and Radiology were searched for subjects.


We identified 12 young children who sustained major closed head injury due to short falls. Seven developed major space-occupying epidural hemorrhages. One child developed internal hydrocephalus after intraventricular hemorrhage. One child with prior meningomyelocele, Chiari 2 malformation, and ventriculoperitoneal shunt developed shunt decompensation after an acute-on-chronic subdural hemorrhage. One child developed an internal capsule stroke because of a previously undiagnosed calcifying angiopathy. Another child developed space-occupying subdural hemorrhage associated with previously unrecognized platelet pool disorder. Only this child had abuse concerns, which were resolved with his coagulopathy diagnosis. One child had a diastatic skull fracture leading to pseudomeningocele.

At Harborview Medical Center, 140 children were seen for short falls in the emergency department or inpatient service. Among the 40 needing intensive care, 4 (12.5%) had major injuries after short falls. Our hemophilia treatment program did not see any children who had sustained major injury following a short fall in a 5½ year period.


Although young children rarely sustain major head injury following short falls, serious head injuries do occasionally occur because of unusual injury mechanisms or preexisting conditions. It is important to fully evaluate these patients to differentiate these unintentional falls from abusive head injury.

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