Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative brain disorder which is tied to repeated head injuries. CTE is characterized by an accumulation of tau protein around the blood vessels of the brain.
Researchers have found CTE in soldiers, athletes, and others who have suffered repeated concussions or brain trauma. This disorder is associated with mood changes, dementia, and aggression. Concussions are injuries which impair a person’s functions, like memory or balance.
The most high-profile cases of CTE, diagnosed definitively only after death, have involved professional boxers and football players. But still much remains unknown about CTE, counting how to differentiate it from other degenerative brain diseases before death and who is most vulnerable.
Causes of CTE
The available literature specifies that the greatest risk factor for CTE related changes is repetitive brain injury — recurring, forceful blows to the head which do not, separately, result in symptoms.
Hence, CTE is caused by repetitive hits to the head continued over a period of years. Significantly, not everyone who has suffered repetitive head trauma will develop CTE. There are some other risk factors that make people more prone to develop CTE than others, counting;
- Age of first exposure to head impacts
Players who begin playing contact sports at younger ages are at greater risk for Chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Several studies show that exposure to head impacts before 12 is related to worse outcomes than starting after 12.
- Length of exposure to head impacts
Athletes having longer careers playing contact sports are also at higher risk than those with shorter careers. Moreover, longer career athletes are likely to have more severe pathology than those with shorter careers.
There are other risk factors as well which have yet to be discovered, including possible genetic differences which make some people more prone to develop CTE than others.
More research will help scientists determine those factors which help them to understand how to prevent and treat the disease.
Researchers and physicians are only beginning to comprehend aspects of CTE. But more research and time are needed. Therefore, a consensus has not yet been reached on the signs of CTE.
However, based on current knowledge, the symptoms of CTE may sometimes be similar to those of other problems which involve considerable loss of brain cells, counting Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Possible signs of CTE include;
- Memory loss.
- Personality changes (including suicidal thoughts and depression).
- Erratic behavior (aggression).
- Problems paying attention and organizing thoughts.
- Difficulty with motor skills and balance.
Like Alzheimer’s dementia, this condition is also characterized by tangles of the abnormal protein tau in the brain.
However, unlike Alzheimer’s dementia, these tangles appear around small blood vessels, and beta-amyloid plaques are only found in certain circumstances.
Presently, there is not a proper test to determine if somebody has CTE. This is because CTE is a rather new area of a survey for researchers and physicians. Moreover, formal clinical guidelines for managing and diagnosing CTE do not yet exist.
A final diagnosis can only be made through an autopsy after death. Researchers are trying to further understand CTE and to find ways to diagnose CTE during life.
To suspect CTE, a thorough medical history, neurological exams, mental status testing, brain imaging, and other diagnostic tests may be used to rule out other probable causes.
Today, there is no proper treatment and cure for CTE. The only known way for its prevention is to avoid repeated head injuries.
People with probable signs of CTE may benefit from some of the same types of care provided for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
Numerous major research initiatives are proceeding to gain further understanding into the patterns of injury and brain changes which may be concerned in CTE. Moreover, researchers are trying to develop new strategies for its prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.