Diffuse Axonal Injury
What is DAI?
Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI) occurs because of a severe head injury. The damage is caused by twisting and turning of the brain tissue. An axon is a part of the nerve that carries impulses or messages between nerve cells. The shearing movement causes axons and small blood vessels to tear. This disrupts the communication between brain cells.
Signs and Symptoms of DAI
The signs and symptoms vary with each person. Most lose consciousness after the injury. Mild forms of DAI result in decreased mental status lasting less than 24 hours. It is also common to have some long-term physical and mental problems. Severe forms of DAI can result in a deep, prolonged coma. Arms and legs can become rigid during this time. High blood pressure, fever, fast breathing, fast heart rate and excess sweating (“neuro-storming”) can also occur.
DAI is often diagnosed based on these signs and symptoms. Tests like a CT and/or MRI scan of the head can sometimes detect small areas of bleeding caused by DAI.
There is no cure for DAI, and the focus of treatment is to provide supportive care. Medicine may be given to help reduce any swelling in the brain and lessen the demands of the brain and body. Some need to be sedated during this time.
The prognosis varies based on how much damage has been done and is often hard to predict. Please feel free to ask your doctors or nurses any questions that you may have.
Hickey, Joanne V., The Clinical Practice of Neurological and Neurosurgical Nursing, 2003, 5th edition, p. 382-383.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 03/10/2010
Copyright © 03/10/2010 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6178
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