Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been widely discussed for the past several years, as it continues to impact those who suffer from repeated blows to the head – particularly football players. While much has still to be discovered about this degenerative brain disease, understanding how damage from CTE affects brain health can help us better understand how the disease progresses.
CTE and Brain Damage
CTE is a degenerative brain disease that is commonly found in athletes, military veterans, and those with a history of repeated head trauma. While research into the disease is ongoing on many fronts, CTE has been known to cause cognitive impairment, depression, emotional instability, violent outbursts, and many other symptoms.
As the effects of CTE continue to be discussed, many former professional athletes have turned their focus to learning more about the impacts that contact sports can have on the brain and brain health. One former WWE wrestler is now the CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF) which is dedicated to concussion and CTE research.
In a recent article, the organization discussed the main issues involved with CTE and brain health, one of which is that it’s not easy to avoid head injuries in contact sports like football, professional wrestling, and hockey. While concussions have been widely linked to CTE, any repeated injuries to the head over time could be dangerous even if they don’t cause a player to lose consciousness. This is because the threshold for damaging the brain is actually below a concussion level according to the CLF’s research. Meaning that any athlete can take multiple hits to the head and feel fine afterward, when in actuality an inflammatory process that rots the brain may have begun.
Commonly, a CTE diagnosis can only be made after death; however, new research has suggested certain signs and behaviors can point to the disease being present while the person is still alive. According to the CLF, when a person has CTE, lesions will spread throughout the brain, which effectively change the way it functions and how a person acts. This typically triggers issues with memory and cognition, mood or behavior, aggression, anxiety, paranoia, impulse control, and violent outbursts—all of which are symptoms of CTE.
In many instances, the CLF has found that family members and close friends of former or current athletes with CTE are the best at diagnosing it, as they witness these prevalent behavioral changes. According to the CLF, two out of every three times a brain is donated to the foundation, the person will be found to have CTE.
While research into CTE and its effects are ongoing, it’s clear that brain health can suffer incredibly following multiple blows to the head.
How Blows to the Head Impact the Brain
As the CLF has found, CTE can be present without the need for a concussion to trigger it. The brain has a cushioned, Jell-O-like texture that is suspended in cerebrospinal fluid, but a hit from a hard tackle or fist can still cause damage. Besides bruising and swelling, the brain can be forced to elongate and stretch nerve cells and their axons which transmit messages between cells. While one mild blow won’t do too much damage, repeated forceful hits can greatly impact the brain, causing CTE to form.
CTE is the result of progressive brain damage, most often present in the frontal lobe, which controls functions like judgment, emotion, impulse control, and memory. When CTE is present, a signature feature is abnormal deposits of the tau protein. This protein occurs normally in brain cells to help them maintain their shape and function. However, in brains with CTE, the tau protein forms clumps inside nerve cells. These clumps can damage and kill off the nerve cells and then spread as the disease progresses. Abnormal tau deposits have been found in other brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
NCAA Head Injury Attorneys
At Raizner Law, we’ve worked first hand with athletes who have suffered injuries due to the negligence of coaches, the NCAA, universities, and athletic conferences. If you or someone you know has suffered a head injury caused by sports-related concussions, contact us for a free consultation where you will learn more about how we can help.