An Overview of CTE

CTE stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The term is used to describe a degeneration of the brain. A quick internet news search of the letters “CTE” will populate a myriad of results that all seem to center around football players, from Antonio Brown to Vincent Jackson. One of those names was recently asked if he thought he suffered from CTE. The other is a confirmed case of CTE. You might also find that there is still a great deal of mystery that still surrounds CTE. One reason being that currently it can only be diagnosed posthumously through an autopsy.

CTE has, up until this point, been so rare and little understood that the causes still aren’t even defined. It’s strongly suspected though that the condition is caused by repeated head traumas. Part of that suspicion is derived from the two populations that are best-known for enduring repeated head traumas: football players and military personnel.

In the football community, CTE is a hot-button topic of conversation. One of the most recent former football players to spark the discussion is Vincent Jackson, wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and previously the San Diego Chargers. In February 2021, days after his former team won the coveted Super Bowl, Jackson was found dead in his Florida hotel room. His official cause of death was “chronic alcohol use,” which had been exacerbated and accelerated as a result of the pandemic. However, it was also determined that he suffered from CTE. 

The symptoms of CTE remain somewhat vague. However, the Mayo Clinic has identified four areas that categorize signs and symptoms. Those are cognitive impairment, behavioral changes, mood disorders, and motor changes. Some of these signs are akin to the symptoms of traumatic brain injury and symptoms of post-traumatic stress. 

Notice that “diagnosed head trauma” is not a sign or symptom of CTE. The doctors who analyzed Jackson’s brain at the CTE Center at Boston University explained that through repeated head traumas lead to CTE, those traumas don’t have to be pronounced. 20% of people who are found to have CTE never even receive a concussion diagnosis. 

The mystery of CTE remains largely unsolved, and there are miles of progress to be made. There is at least one bright spot on the horizon for better understanding. Boston University’s aforementioned CTE Center has been studying MRIs of deceased brain donors with CTE and comparing them to the brains of healthy, living men. They’ve observed shrinkages in certain areas of the brains with CTE, including the frontal and temporal lobes, and the hippocampus. Though it doesn’t concretely identify CTE yet, it brings diagnosis while alive through an MRI closer to becoming a reality. The ability to diagnose CTE while still living will save innumerable lives. 

Little by little is how these breakthroughs happen. As more attention is placed on CTE through major football stars and military personnel, more questions arise, more research and studies take place, and progress will continue to be made until the mystery of CTE fully unravels. 


Posted on January 17 2022 in Blog

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