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CTE May Not Affect Just Athletes

by on March 4, 2015 » Add the first comment.

What Is CTE and Who is at Risk?

First recognized in 1928, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) was then called “punch drunk syndrome,” referring to the peculiar way seasoned boxers acted after years of taking punches. CTE is a degenerative disease acquired from repeated trauma to the brain. It causes progressive degeneration of the brain tissues due to an accumulation of abnormal proteins. The degeneration can cause negative personality changes, memory loss, and impulse control.

Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed post-mortem, but neurologists are looking for ways to diagnose CTE in the living and hopefully develop treatment options. Let’s take closer look at this disease.

Who is Affected?

Prior to 2005, CTE was only known to affect professional athletes, but after extensive research, studies suggest that it has been found in military veterans as well as anyone who has suffered multiple concussions. Surprisingly, people who only played sports through high school and victims of domestic abuse also may suffer from this disease.

The concussions that may cause CTE can either be symptomatic or asymptomatic. The common thread is chronic trauma to the brain and possible brain damage. Genetics may also play a role in CTE risk. Recent research into diagnostic criteria suggests the following exposure factors:

  • ‘High exposure’ contact sports (boxing, football, hockey, lacrosse, rugby, wrestling, and soccer).
  • Military service (combat exposure, blast and explosion exposure, and some training)
  • Any other significant history of repetitive hits to the head (domestic abuse or head banging)
  • Other activities that may have resulted in severe concussions such as motor vehicle accidents.

How does CTE affect the brain?

The concussions trigger a build-up of an abnormal protein called Tau. In the early stages, Tau begins to appear in isolated sections of the brain. Over time, though, Tau hot spots begin to multiply and migrate, blending in with one another. These conjoined sections of Tau affect the hippocampus and amygdala of the brain, the areas that are responsible for memory and emotions.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms may begin anywhere from months to years after the initial injury. At the outset, symptoms tend to reflect those of a concussion, but without the head injury. Episodes of concentration lapses, disorientation, confusion and headaches may occur. As the disease progresses, CTE becomes more aggressive, causing erratic behavior and episodes of violence and psychosis. In its final stages, CTE causes dementia and symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, including trouble with speech and walking. Ultimately, CTE has been shown to cause a risk for substance abuse and even early death, often due to overdoses or suicide.

How is CTE Diagnosed?

CTE is difficult to diagnose before death. Unlike other neurological diseases, CTE will not show bleeding or abnormalities in a CT scan. Build-up of the Tau protein cannot be recognized with any existing brain scans, though researchers are making progress on new ways to diagnose CTE. In January of 2013, researchers at UCLA identified CTE in a living person for the first time. This early step could mean a breakthrough in the way CTE is diagnosed.

How is CTE Treated?

Currently, there is no cure for CTE and treatment is strictly supportive. Individual symptoms, like anxiety and depression, may be treated as they appear. At the moment, the only known way to avoid CTE is with prevention.

Research into treatments for CTE is ongoing. As a “new” neurodegenerative disease, CTE requires entirely new methods of diagnoses and treatment. Fortunately, expanding media coverage has helped to inform the general public and encourage donors and research volunteers to come forward.  Additionally, scientists are making progress in developing Tau stabilizing drug therapies, one of which is currently undergoing clinical trials.

Find more like this: Premises Liability and Injuries

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