Diffuse Axonal Brain Injury

Diffuse axonal brain injury (DAI) is a form of extensive lesions found in the white matter of the brain. This type of brain injury occurs to about half of all cases of brain injury. Thus, it is known as the most common and devastating type of brain injury. It causes unconsciousness and patients may end up in a vegetative state.

The most common outcome is a coma. Sadly, based on research over 90% of patients with severe diffuse axonal brain injury never regain consciousness. For those who are lucky to wake up remain in a significantly impaired state.

Diffuse axonal brain injury can vary from mild such as concussion to moderate and severe. It commonly happens during car accidents, falls and for some instances, assaults. It is called diffuse because this type is widespread affecting a larger area. Unlike some other types of brain injuries that are focal or in one generalized area.

This can also be caused by child abuse or shaken baby syndrome.


Several parts of the brain are affected by this type. It is always severe thus it becomes life-threatening. The survival rate depends on a lot of factors such as the brain regions that are affected, the health of the patient, the quality of care available and the accessibility to this type of quality care.


Although a patient suffers a direct blow to the head, it may not necessarily cause a diffuse axonal brain injury. DAI is more related to shaking as a result of a rapid acceleration and deceleration of the brain. This causes a shearing injury to the brain. It mainly damages a huge part of the white matter.

The most common causes  are falls. This may cause the head to whip back and forth. Vehicular accidents, sports related injuries, and blows that causes the brain to shake rapidly and violently are the common causes of diffuse axonal brain injury.


Diffuse axonal brain injury produces similar symptoms to other brain injuries. A neural imaging is needed to identify the type of brain injury.

Immediate medical intervention is required for any injury to the brain including concussions and contusions. Early intervention can save the life of the patient and prevent any further damages to the brain.

Symptoms include changes in the patients’ perception, unexplained changes in mood or personality, difficulty recognizing places, people, events, situations and words. Problems with animals that are apparently familiar to the patient before, problems with speaking and reading, memory changes, and unexplained depression or anxiety can be observed.

If left untreated, these symptoms can eventually affect every area of the patients functioning. It can cause a catastrophic changes in the patients’ cognitive skills, emotions and personality.

The symptoms may also vary on which part of the brain was damaged. For example,  if the motor control part was affected, then the patient will have problems with walking or coordinating body movements.

Treatment and Rehabilitation

Diffuse axonal brain injury is serious and often leads to death. It doesn’t matter whether the patient is a child or an adult. The prognosis always depends of the severity of the injury and the time that the patient receive immediate and competent medical care and rehabilitation.

The main focus of the treatment is to help the patient regain as much brain functions as possible.

Depending on the patients’ needs, the treatment process may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and psychotherapy. Assistance will also be provided so patient can develop a new life skills as it will take long to recover. Some functions may not become normal anymore, and emphasis on family support can hugely help the patient to recover faster.

For some cases recovering from diffuse axonal brain injury is possible. But there is no guarantee for a full recovery. A lot of patients who suffer an extensive damage to the brain struggle with a continuous brain and nervous system problems for the rest of their lives.

It is vital that the rehabilitation plan is strictly followed to ensure a consistent treatment and recovery and changes can alter the time of recovery thus sometimes making the treatment process unsuccessful.

Offer support and understanding for a patient going through rehabilitation it may not be easy for you as a family, relative or friend but for sure it is a lot more difficult for them to go through this endeavor.

What to Do When Someone Had A Brain Injury

How do you react when someone had a brain injury? Most people may be doing it wrong when they try to help a person with a head injury.

It is very important not to move the patient unless it is absolutely necessary. Sudden or a little movement can aggravate the situation.

Call the paramedics as fast as you can and inform them of a possible brain injury.

According to the statistics from CDC, there is an estimated 1.7 million people experienced traumatic brain injury  yearly. Although there are a lot of patients who recover from such, there is an approximately 52,000 people who die and 275,000 being hospitalized for TBI annually. Becoming aware of the risks and effects can help lessen brain injury cases.

Leave a comment