Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease that is thought to be caused by repeated head injuries, such as those sustained through playing contact sports or experiencing physical abuse.
CTE is commonly linked to contact sports like boxing, Rugby and American football. Many of the research studies on CTE focus on former athletes who may have been exposed to repeated head injuries. It’s worth noting that CTE was previously referred to as “punch drunk” syndrome and dementia pugilistica, but these terms are no longer used because it is now understood that CTE is not just limited to people who have retired from boxing. Instead, it can potentially affect anyone who has experienced repeated head trauma.
The symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) can vary widely, and they may not appear until many years after the head injuries that caused the condition. Some common symptoms of CTE include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty with concentration and attention
- Mood swings and emotional instability
- Impulse control problems and difficulty with decision-making
- Depression and anxiety
- Aggression and irritability
- Parkinsonism (movement problems similar to those seen in Parkinson’s disease)
It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, and that not everyone who has experienced head injuries will develop CTE.
What causes CTE
CTE is thought to be caused by repeated head injuries, such as concussions, that occur over a prolonged period of time. While it is possible to develop CTE after experiencing a concussion, it is important to note that CTE and concussion are separate conditions, and not everyone who experiences a concussion will go on to develop CTE. However, research suggests that the risk of developing CTE may increase with the number of concussions or other head injuries that a person experiences. It is thought that certain groups of people may be more vulnerable to the risk.
- Playing contact sports, such as American football, Rugby, boxing, or hockey
- Experiencing physical abuse or domestic violence
- Serving in the military and being exposed to blasts or other traumatic brain injuries
- Participating in high-risk activities, such as stunt work or extreme sports
It is difficult to determine exactly who is affected by Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), as the condition is still not fully understood and there is limited research on the subject, as the condition has been found in individuals who have experienced a wide range of repetitive brain trauma, including:
- Professional athletes who have participated in contact sports such as football, hockey, and boxing
- Amateur athletes who have participated in contact sports
- Military personnel who have been exposed to blasts or other head trauma
- Individuals who have experienced repetitive head trauma due to physical abuse or domestic violence
- Individuals who have engaged in risky behaviors that have resulted in repeated head injuries, such as stunt performers or people who have participated in extreme sports.
It is thought that individuals who have experienced more severe and/or more frequent brain injuries may be at higher risk for developing CTE, although more research is needed to confirm this. Other potential risk factors for CTE may include genetics, brain structure, and other individual differences.
Diagnosing Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) can be challenging, as the condition can only be definitively diagnosed post-mortem through an examination of brain tissue. However, there are some tests that can be used to help identify the presence of CTE in living individuals. These tests may include:
- Neuropsychological testing: This involves a series of cognitive and behavioral tests that can help to identify changes in brain function.
- Brain imaging: Techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) can be used to look for changes in brain structure and function.
- Biomarkers: Researchers are studying the potential use of biomarkers, such as tau protein, as indicators of CTE
It is important to note that these tests are still being developed and are not yet widely available or fully validated for use in diagnosing CTE.
There is currently no cure for Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and treatment options are limited. As CTE can only be definitively diagnosed post-mortem, most treatment efforts are focused on managing the symptoms of the condition. Some potential treatment options for CTE may include:
- Medications: These may be used to address specific symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or aggression.
- Therapy: This may include cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy, or other types of counseling to help individuals cope with the emotional and behavioral effects of CTE.
- Protective equipment: Using protective equipment during activities that carry a risk of head injury can help to minimize the risk of further brain injuries.
Complications of CTE
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disorder that can lead to a number of complications. Some possible complications of CTE may include:
- Cognitive impairment: CTE may lead to changes in thinking and memory, including difficulty with concentration, problem-solving, and decision-making.
- Emotional and behavioral changes: CTE may cause mood changes, including depression, anxiety, and aggression.
- Motor dysfunction: CTE may lead to problems with movement and coordination, including tremors, difficulty walking, and problems with balance.
- Dementia: CTE may progress to a stage where it causes symptoms similar to dementia, including confusion, disorientation, and memory loss.
- Death: In severe cases, CTE may lead to death.
It is important to note that the severity and progression of CTE can vary widely among individuals, and not everyone with CTE will experience all of these complications.
To safeguard against CTE, it is essential to refrain from repeated head trauma. While it may be challenging to anticipate or prevent all head injuries, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk.
For example, you should:
- Wear protective equipment: Wearing appropriate protective equipment, such as helmets, during activities that carry a risk of head injury can help to reduce the risk of brain injury.
- Avoid activities that carry a high risk of head injury: This may include contact sports such as American football, Rugby, hockey and boxing, as well as other activities that involve repetitive head trauma.
- Seek medical attention after a head injury: If you experience a head injury, it is important to seek medical attention to assess the severity of the injury and determine the appropriate treatment.
- Manage other health conditions: Maintaining good overall health, including managing conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, may help to reduce the risk of complications from head injuries.
- Limit alcohol and drug use: Substance abuse can increase the risk of head injuries, so it is important to use these substances in moderation or avoid them altogether.