Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a killer disease

nn_08ns_brain_130122Within the last few years Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) has become a prominent issue found in National Football League players. This really became of great attention when NFL player, Junior Seau, shot himself in the chest unexpectedly. This behavior was so odd that scientists did research on his brain. This is when they finally came to a better understanding of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Primarily this chronic illness is caused by the intense bashing of heads against one another a repetitive amount of times in sports. Symptoms include blurred vision, memory loss, mood swings, paranoia, and shorter life span. I was talking to a friend about this over dinner and it sparked my interest to research this topic more and write a blog about it. Here is what I found:

small-cte-brain-wordsIn an oxford journal study, scientists performed an observational research study on football players with verified CTE at autopsy who died suddenly in their middle ages. All football players of this study played similar positions (offensive linemen, defensive lineman, and linebacker). The subjects also shared common symptoms including: depression, memory impairment, paranoia, poor impulse control, irritability, apathy, confusion, distraction, dementia, and suicidality. According to another study symptoms of CTE do not become present until years after the disease actually forms, and once the disease is detected, the systems usually have already ended.

In the figures below, you can see the phases a brain with CTE goes through:hoffman_ml_15i-1


Scientists have been trying to come to a conclusion on the mechanism behind CTE for many years now. At first they thought, is this a disease of chance? Most studies generally report the disease to have a correlation with intense contact sport athletes such as football, boxing, hockey, and others due to their high associations with concussions. When figuring out the mechanism, it was difficult at first because they knew it wasn’t caused from excessive concussions and head injuries alone. According to the study, exposure to head trauma, age of first exposure, and genetic predisposition, could be third confounding variables to take into consideration when researching the development of CTE.

Another study confirms that a specific mechanism has yet to be completely distinguished but there is many research suggesting CTE is a product of continuous immunoexcitotoxicity and correlated with massive head injuries. Unfortunately however, there is not yet a direct treatment or no absolute cure for this disease.

So what does this mean for football players? Is there sufficient evidence that will convince football and other harsh contact sports players to stop playing the sport, have more regular brain checks, or encourage safer sports equipment? Probably not. I guess the take away message would be to be more careful in contact sports to avoid concussions, and if you do get a concussion, always get it checked out and taken care of as soon as possible.

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1 thought on “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a killer disease

  1. Michael David Kresovich

    I learned about CTE through someone who played in the NFL who was actually concussed. this fascinates me a lot, I have had 2 concussions and I think this topic is very prelevalnt. Great article

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