What is diffuse axonal injury?

Diffuse axonal injury is a type of traumatic brain injury that occurs if the brain is shifted rapidly within the skull as an injury is taking place. The elongated connecting fibers within the brain or axons are cropped as the brain accelerates and decelerates rapidly within the skull.

The injury generally damages different parts of the brain and an individual usually ends up in a state of coma. The changes within the brain are often tiny and hard to detect even with MRI or CT scans.

What are the signs?

A distinctive sign of diffuse axonal injury is loss of consciousness. This generally lasts for 6 hours or more. In case the damage is minor, the individual remains conscious but shows other indications of brain damage. These signs tend to vary extensively since they are based on the site of the brain that is impaired. In most cases, the signs include:


A distinctive sign of diffuse axonal injury is loss of consciousness.

  • Headache
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sleeping longer than usual
  • Dizziness or balance loss

Management of diffuse axonal injury

The immediate action required for an individual with diffuse axonal injury is to lessen the swelling within the brain since this can lead to further impairment. In some instances, a course of steroids is given to lessen the swelling.

Take note that there is no available surgical procedure for the injury. In severe cases, there is a possibility that the individual will go into a vegetative state or even death. For mild to moderate cases, rehabilitation might be possible.

Remember that many individuals could not survive severe cases of head injuries. Those who survive are left unconscious and do not regain consciousness. Only a few who wake up are left with lasting issues even after rehabilitation has been done.

Disclaimer / More Information

The information posted on this page on diffuse axonal injury is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn how the injury is managed, register for first aid training at one of our training centers located throughout Canada. The training centers are in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Victoria, Surrey, Mississauga, Winnipeg, Red Deer, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.