Debunking fringe beliefs in child abuse imaging: AJR expert panel narrative review

Cory M. Pfeifer, M. Katherine Henry, Marguerite M. Caré, Cindy W. Christian, Sabah Servaes, Sarah S. Milla, Peter J. Strouse

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Child abuse is a global public health concern. Injuries from physical abuse may be clinically occult and not appreciable on physical examination. Imaging is therefore critical in identifying and documenting such injuries. The radiologic approach for a child who has potentially been abused has received considerable attention and recommendations according to decades of experience and rigorous scientific study. Nonetheless, fringe beliefs describing alternative explanations for child abuse–related injuries have emerged and received mainstream attention. Subsequently, imaging findings identified in abused children have been attributed to poorly supported underlying medical conditions, clouding the evidence basis for radiologic findings indicative of nonaccidental trauma. Fringe beliefs that attribute findings seen in child abuse to alternate pathologies such as genetic disorders, birth trauma, metabolic imbalances, vitamin D deficiency, and short-distance falls typically have limited evidence basis and lack professional society support. Careful review of the scientific evidence and professional society consensus statements is important in differentiating findings attributable to child abuse from fringe beliefs used to discount the possibility that a child’s constellation of injuries is consistent with abuse. This review refutes fringe beliefs used to provide alternative explanations in cases of suspected child abuse and reinforces the key literature and scientific consensus regarding child abuse imaging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)529-540
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Roentgenology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Abusive head trauma
  • Child abuse
  • Children
  • CT
  • Forensic testimony
  • Infants
  • MRI
  • Radiography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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