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What Is a Diffuse Axonal Injury?

Diffuse axonal injury (DAI) is a type of traumatic brain injury that happens when the head is struck, jolted, or shaken. The movement of the brain lags behind the movement of the skull, causing the long connecting nerve fibers (the axons) to tear. Like other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), DAIs are serious injuries that require immediate medical attention and can lead to life-changing losses for the individual.

DAIs are one of the most common types of brain injuries. They make up 40–50 percent of all TBIs requiring hospital admission, according to The Brain Injury Association of America. The majority of people diagnosed with a DAI will experience problems with memory and with rapid mental processing skills.

According to Johns Hopkins, DAIs can cause coma as well as injury to many different parts of the brain. Changes to the brain are often so microscopic they are difficult to detect through computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.


Symptoms for DAIs can vary based on the severity of the injury.

Signs of a milder injury include:

  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Fatigue

  • Drowsiness

  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than normal

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Blurred vision

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Mood swings

More severe injuries could include all of the above as well as:

  • Lasting confusion

  • Slurred speech

  • Loss of coordination

  • Numbness and/or weakness in fingers or toes

  • Convulsions

  • Seizures

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Coma

  • Death


Since DAIs are the result of acceleration or deceleration of the brain inside the skull, they most commonly occur when the head is shaken or jolted. Car accidents are by far the most common cause of DAIs. Shaken Baby Syndrome, which is a form of child abuse, is also a noted reason.

Falls, especially among older individuals, as well as medical errors and violent attacks can also cause DAIs.


There are times when a DAI is the result of someone else’s negligence. Perhaps a driver on the road was being inattentive and caused an accident, or a medical professional failed to uphold their duty of care during a procedure.

When a DAI occurs in these types of situations, you may be able to sue for damages such as hospital and rehabilitation fees, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering.

DAIs are an extremely serious injury, and you should visit the hospital immediately if you believe there is even a remote chance of having one.

© 2022 by Clifford Law Offices PC. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 193

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We have been named in the National Law Journal's Top 50 "America's Elite Trial Lawyers," the only Chicago law firm to be awarded this honor. We have also received first-tier rankings in such practice areas as medical malpractice, product liability and class action work in U.S. News & World Report...