Everything You Should Know About Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative and fatal brain disorder caused by repeated traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), such as concussions and head blows. It is also linked to the onset of dementia.

This disorder has an impact on how different parts of your brain function, communicate, and work with one another. CTE may have severe effects, depending on the level of damage and the affected parts of the brain.

CTE is well known to affect professional players in contact sports, including boxing, American football, and ice hockey. However, this syndrome can occur in those who have had recurrent head traumas, regardless of whether they play sports or not. Medical professionals also recognize it in veterans of the armed forces who have had several explosion- or blast-related incidents.

Who is affected by chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

A history of repetitive head trauma can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy in any person. However, CTE does not emerge immediately. For most persons with this disorder, it might take years or decades before symptoms become severe enough to warrant attention.

Individuals who have repeated head injuries over an extended period are more likely to acquire CTE; this is especially true for professional athletes. A large percentage of people who play high school sports do not develop CTE. The typical age of patients with confirmed CTE falls between 42 and 43 years.

People with the highest risk include:

  • Individuals engaged in combat sports and competitions. It especially applies to traditional martial arts like judo, tae kwon do, aikido, boxing, and mixed martial arts (MMA).
  • People who participate in contact sports, such as ice hockey, football, and rugby.
  • People who participate in activities centered around roads and concrete, such as rollerblading, skateboarding, and cycling.
  • Military soldiers who are subjected to blasts and other concussive incidents.

How prevalent is chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

Experts are unsure how common CTE is, partly because there is no way to diagnose it while a person is still alive. Medical professionals may assume someone has it, but an autopsy is the only way to be sure. Also, many other degenerative brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia, have strong similarities and shared symptoms with CTE.

What are the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

The signs and symptoms of CTE typically appear gradually and worsen with time.

Typical signs and symptoms of CTE include:

Other signs that may manifest are:

  • Depression
  • Executive dysfunction
  • Difficulty speaking clearly
  • Tremors and other types of uncontrollable muscle movements (parkinsonism)
  • Balance issues and unsteady walking
  • Coordination loss (ataxia)
  • Increasingly aggressive behavior
  • Self-harming thoughts and actions (including suicidal thoughts and attempts)

What causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

CTE is the result of a combination of causes, which include:

  • A history of repeated head traumas: One of the most well-known risk factors for CTE is a history of repetitive head trauma. These impacts don’t necessarily cause someone to lose consciousness or be “knocked out.” Rather, repetitive head impacts have cumulative effects over time. That may result in the development of the condition.
  • Accumulation of fatty proteins in the brain: Another crucial factor in the development of CTE is the tau protein. Protein function depends on their structure. Similar to how a lock requires a key with the proper shape, your cells can only use a protein if it has the right shape. However, if a protein undergoes modifications, it will malfunction and may spread and impact other parts of the brain. Currently, the diagnosis of CTE involves locating a modified type of tau protein in a particular pattern within the brain.

How is chronic traumatic encephalopathy diagnosed?

There is no definitive way to diagnose CTE while an individual is alive. The only way to do so is to analyze brain samples under a microscope, which is only possible during a post-mortem examination.

Although a physician can make a tentative diagnosis of CTE based on your symptoms and a physical and neurological test, they may not be able to confirm the condition before death. In addition, they will go over your past head traumas and suggest particular laboratory and imaging testing. The most commonly used tests do not detect CTE. Instead, they rule out other possibilities. The tests include computed tomography (CT) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) testing.

How is chronic traumatic encephalopathy treated?

CTE has no known treatment. Various factors, including your medical history, symptoms, and other conditions, may influence the treatments available for some symptoms. Furthermore, there are some practices that you can integrate into your lifestyle to promote overall brain health. Your healthcare professional is the best person to inform you of the treatments.

How can I prevent chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

Reducing the amount of head blows you might experience is the most effective method to lower your risk of CTE. Furthermore, there are easy methods that can lower your likelihood of experiencing a concussion, where impacts to the brain can produce significant symptoms:

  • Play safely: When participating in contact sports like ice hockey or American football, wear the proper protective gear. Helmets and other forms of protective gear can lower the risk of a concussion. Playing carefully and avoiding scenarios where you could experience a dangerous collision or put yourself in danger is also crucial.
  • Avoid playing while injured: If you receive a hit but retain your consciousness, it is easy to ignore it and consider yourself alright. A concussion can happen without unconsciousness, albeit it can be hazardous to take another blow after one has already occurred.
  • Wear your helmet: A helmet is essential for everyone who enjoys sports like skating, rollerblading, cycling, and related activities. They can significantly lower the incidence of concussions.
  • Wear your seatbelt: Nonathletes frequently sustain concussions as a result of traffic accidents. Wearing your seatbelt can lower your risks of getting a concussion or lessen the severity if you already have one.

References

  1. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17686-chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy-cte. Accessed: 30th April, 2024.
  2. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Alzheimer’s Association. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia/related_conditions/chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy. Accessed: 30th April, 2024.
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