Now that preseason NFL football games are starting, players are going to start getting hurt. The dangers of repeated head impacts and serious brain injuries like concussions cannot be understated for players in the NFL. With the number of players experiencing symptoms of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), athletes need to be aware of the effects of brain injuries so they do not do more damage to themselves.
What is CTE?
CTE is a neurodegenerative condition caused by multiple impacts to the brain, not one impact or concussion. In addition to the degeneration of the brain, there is a buildup of a protein called Tau. In a healthy brain, Tau gives structure to microtubules, which distribute chemicals throughout neurons. Multiple impacts can break down the microtubules, causing the Tau proteins that give structure to break free and clump together. The clumps spread, infect brain tissue, and change brain function. This process can happen to anyone who sustains multiple impacts to the head, not just football players.
What are the symptoms of CTE?
- Trouble thinking
- Impulsive behavior
- Depression or apathy
- Short term memory loss
- Trouble planning out tasks
- Emotional instability
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts/behavior
Even though there are many symptoms, CTE cannot be diagnosed in someone until the person has died, an autopsy is done, and a cross section of the brain is examined. If there is a buildup of proteins, the stain added to the brain tissue can be clearly seen as a brown color, confirming that there is a large buildup of tau proteins.
How can CTE be prevented?
There is no medicine or treatment for people with CTE. The only way to prevent the disease from developing is to avoid multiple head impacts. If a football player has sustained multiple concussions and has had multiple head impacts, he should think about retiring so more damage is not done. Prevention is about stopping head impacts over long periods of time, so children should not be playing impact sports at an early age. There is a movement afoot to keep children from playing football before the age of 12 to reduce the amount of head impacts they sustain.
“Frequently Asked Questions about CTE” BU Research: CTE Center [Link]
Mayo Clinic Staff, “Chronic traumatic encephalopathy” Mayo Clinic (April 20, 2016). [Link]
“The Science of CTE” Concussion Legacy Foundation [Link]