What Is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy?

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a type of degenerative disease that affects the brain. It results from repetitive brain trauma, which occurs among many athletes, veterans, and other individuals engaged in activities that put them at risk of repetitive trauma.

CTE occurs when Tau proteins develop in the brain due to repeated trauma. In the process, brain cells die and the brain begins to degenerate. 

What Are the Symptoms of CTE?

Symptoms of CTE typically don’t appear in individuals until years following repetitive brain trauma. Some early symptoms of the disease may become apparent in a person’s late twenties to thirties, usually in the form of behavioral changes. Progression of the disease may begin with changes such as increased aggression, paranoia, and depression, along with impulse control issues.

Over time, CTE may cause certain cognitive problems. By the individual’s late forties or fifties, patients experience difficulties with memory and general cognitive function, impaired judgment, confusion, or even dementia. Symptoms may remain stable if the victim doesn’t experience any additional head trauma, or they may worsen over time regardless of continuing trauma.

What Are the Causes of CTE?

Generally, repetitive blows to the head taking place over the course of several years are the cause of CTE. People with the disease have likely suffered hundreds or even thousands of hits to the head throughout the years. In most cases, the victims of CTE are athletes or veterans who have sustained head injuries over the years from sports or military service. Most of the victims of CTE have suffered many sub-concussive impacts. These don’t cause as much immediate damage as concussions, which can result in traumatic brain injury.

Individuals Most Likely to Develop CTE

CTE most frequently appears in athletes because of the likely occurrence of sports-related head injuries. In sports, a majority of cases result from tackle football (200+), followed by hockey, boxing, rugby, soccer, and pro wrestling. A few cases have been found in baseball and basketball players. Military service, meanwhile, accounted for over 25 diagnosed cases.

CTE is currently only diagnosed from an analysis of brain tissue after the victim has died. The serious nature of CTE and the inability to cure it has led to controversy regarding the safety of players in the NFL and other sports leagues. As people’s understanding of this disease deepens over time, there could be more measures put in place to help prevent head trauma.