Chronic Trauma Encephalopathy, also known as CTE, is a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive brain injuries. Athletes are the main group of people that are diagnosed with this disease because of all the head injuries they receive. Back in the 1920’s, boxers suffered with the symptoms of CTE. But recently, there have been many reports of athletes such as football players and wrestlers that have these same symptoms such as tremors and confusion. In fact, these symptoms are very similar to Alzheimer’s disease. But unlike Alzheimer’s, CTE can be preventable.
What happens in the brain is that after a while an abnormal protein called tau will build up and clumps around the brain causing much dysfunction. Those suffering with CTE may not have symptoms for many years following the last blow to the head. In 2008, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy was created for the purpose of conducting research for better understanding on how to prevent and treat CTE. Since this is a somewhat preventable disease, ongoing researchers are trying to find out ways to diagnose CTE early in athletes that are still living. Currently, brain tissue is researched only after death.
The main focus in dealing with CTE is to find ways in diagnosing, preventing and treating this disease. As previously mentioned, there are no tests given to diagnose CTE in living athletes. Since the diagnosis right now is only revealed after death, prevention is the key focus. The biggest tool in keeping players safe from CTE is to follow current guidelines and recommendations set in motion to keep them from returning to their activity after they have sustained a concussion or a major blow to the head. Dr. Robert Stern, who is co-director of CSTE, recommends a three week recovery period for most concussions. The guideline right now for return to play for athletes is a progressive increase in activity level, as long as the player does not display any symptoms. This may not be enough to keep players safe.
Another recommendation in preventing CTE is to make sure the player sees a professional that is better equipped to deal with this kind of trauma. An experienced sports medicine physician is the best plan to treat this kind of disease. Lawmakers are also involved in trying to get bills passed on protecting our athletes from going back to their sport before they are ready. Organizations such as the NFL are also involved. Many NFL players have donated their brains for research in hopes to find out more about CTE to bring more awareness and prevention.
Since CTE has been more public recently, researchers have been trying to determine what the best treatment would be. Right now as it stands, there is not one known treatment for CTE, other than doing whatever it takes to prevent it from happening and to make sure to get the appropriate medical care available. The goal is to educate coaches, parents, athletes and the public on steps to protect these young people. Everyone working together can make a difference.