Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a term used to describe brain damage caused by recurrent head injuries. CTE can only be detected at autopsy by examining parts of the brain.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a rare disorder that is not yet well understood. CTE is not associated with the immediate effects of a late episode of head injury. CTE has a complex relationship with recurrent post-traumatic stress disorder and head trauma such as second attack syndrome occurring in early life.
Experts are still trying to understand the recurrence of head injuries, including how many head injuries and the severity of those injuries, and how other factors may contribute to changes in the brain caused by CTE.
CTE has been found in the brains of people who play football and other contact sports, including boxing. It can also happen to military personnel who have been the victims of a bomb blast. Some of the symptoms of CTE are thought to include difficulties in thinking (cognitive) and emotions, physical problems, and other behaviors.
CTE cannot be diagnosed during life, except in rare individuals with high-risk manifestations. The frequency of CTE in the population is not yet known to researchers and the causes are not understood. There is no cure for CTE. Researchers are currently developing diagnostic biomarkers for CTE, but so far nothing has been verified.
There are no specific symptoms clearly associated with CTE. Some possible symptoms of CTE can occur in many other Stages. In some individuals with CTE, symptoms may include cognitive, behavioral, mood, and motor changes.
- Memory loss
- Difficulty thinking (cognitive impairment)
- Problems with planning, organization, and tasks (administrative function)
- Impulsive behavior
- Substance misuse
- Depression or apathy
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
- Emotional instability
- Motor neuron disease
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy symptoms don’t develop right after a head injury, but experts believe that they might develop over years or decades after repeated head trauma. Experts currently believe that CTE symptoms occur in two forms. In early life between the late 20s and early 30s, the first form of CTE may cause mental health and behavioral issues including anxiety, depression, impulsivity, and aggression. The second form of CTE is thought to cause signs later in life, around age 60. These symptoms include memory and thinking problems that are likely to progress to dementia.
The full list of symptoms to look for in people with CTE at autopsy is still unknown. It is unclear what kind of symptoms, if any, CTE may cause during life. Little is known right now about how CTE progresses.
Recurrent head injury may be due to CTE. Football and ice hockey players and military veterans serving in battle zones are the focus of most CTE studies, although other sports and factors such as physical abuse can also lead to recurrent head injuries.
However, not everyone who experiences recurrent concussions, including all athletes and military personnel, develops CTE. Some studies show that there is no increase in CTE in people with recurrent head injuries.
Researchers have found that in the brain with CTE, there is the formation of a protein called tau around the blood vessels. Tau formation in CTE is different from tau accumulation found in Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. CTE is thought to waste parts of the brain (atrophy). Injuries to sections of nerve cells that conduct electrical impulses affect the communication between cells.
People with CTE may have symptoms of another neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – also known as Lou Kehric disease – Parkinson’s disease, or frontotemporal lobar degeneration (frontotemporal dementia)
Repeated exposure to traumatic brain injury is thought to increase the risk of CTE, but experts are still learning about risk factors
There is no cure for CTE. But CTE can be prevented because it is associated with recurrent concussions. Individuals with a concussion are more likely to have another head injury. The current recommendation for preventing CTE is to reduce mild traumatic brain injury and prevent further injury after a concussion.
When to see a doctor
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is thought to develop over many years after repeated brain injuries that may be mild or severe. However, see your doctor in case of the following:
- Suicidal thoughts. Research shows that people with Chronic traumatic encephalopathy may be at increased risk of suicide.
- Head injury. See your doctor if you’ve had a head injury, even if you didn’t require emergency care. If your child has received a head injury that concerns you, call your child’s doctor immediately. Depending on the symptoms, your doctor may suggest seeking immediate medical care.
- Memory problems. See your doctor if you have concerns about your memory or other thinking (cognitive) or behavior issues.
- Personality or mood changes. See your doctor if anxiety, depression, aggression, or impulsivity occur.