Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease related to repeated head trauma. CTE is poorly understood among brain diseases because it cannot be definitively diagnosed in a living patient; it can only be diagnosed posthumously at present.
Because researchers can’t get a clear look at CTE in living patients, it’s very difficult to determine the disease’s specific causes, symptoms, or prognosis. CTE seems to be linked to repeated head traumas and probably takes years to develop. It doesn’t seem to be caused by a single incident of head trauma; however, it is unclear how many head traumas put a patient at risk of developing CTE over time.
CTE is rare, but athletes who regularly experience head traumas (football players, hockey players, boxers, wrestlers, etc.) seem to be especially at risk. Even this is difficult to confirm, though, because athletes’ brains are usually only examined for CTE when they’ve experienced CTE signs while they were alive. This could make the rate of CTE in athletes appear to be much higher than it is. CTE is also an occupational hazard in careers exposed to repetitive head injury; data on occupational CTE is being continually gathered.
The UNITE Brain Bank at Boston University:
The UNITE Brain Bank collects central nervous system tissue samples (brain, spinal cord, and eyes) from deceased athletes to better understand the long-term effects of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Researchers at the UNITE Brain Bank are dedicated to improving understanding of the long-term consequences of mTBI and advancing the diagnosis, treatment, and care and for Veterans and civilians living with mTBI and CTE.
“Many organizations, including the NFL and the NFLPA, have voiced support for CTE Center research and encourage athletes to participate when possible. Recently, when asked if league officials’ thinking has evolved, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league has ‘embraced research, embraced technology when it comes to the safety of our players. We always believe in getting better. We’re encouraging players to work with Dr. Cantu and all of the folks at Boston University.’”
Included in this list of players are those diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) who were not tested post-mortem for CTE, but had medical histories consistent with CTE. ALS was the diagnosis best fitting the symptoms, and was commonly assigned to living NFL players before CTE was better understood; the posthumous diagnosis of CTE is currently the only accurate method of diagnosis.
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