CTE The history and the mystery

Erin Tornatore

BOSTON (August 7, 2015) – Which athletes are at risk for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)? Can it be prevented? How is CTE related to sports concussions? When—and how—can CTE be diagnosed?

“Our knowledge of CTE is extremely limited,” says Rebekah Mannix, MD, MPH, of Boston Children’s Hospital Emergency Medicine Division and author of a review article published in the August 7, 2015, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Doctors first observed signs of CTE in 1928, and described boxers affected by the condition as “punch drunk.” These sluggers had developed an unsteady gait, mental confusion, delayed reaction times, hesitant speech and tremors.

Physicians’ knowledge of CTE has inched forward in the last 90 years. Even today doctors can observe signs and symptoms of the condition, but it can be diagnosed only via brain autopsy.

NFL legend Junior Seau’s suicide and subsequent diagnosis of CTE in 2012 illustrated CTE’s devastation. Other professional football players showed similar symptoms and also were diagnosed after death.

“We know CTE affects a small group of high contact-sports athletes, primarily boxers and football players, who have absorbed repeated blows to the head,” says Mannix.

But there’s a great deal experts don’t know.

They have not determined the prevalence of CTE in the general population, and the events leading from concussion to CTE are not well described.

“More research is needed to understand CTE and determine whether risk factors such as sports participation, multiple concussions and subconcussive blows are the only cause of CTE,” says Mannix.

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