CTE in Athletes


Jessica Moskal, Writer

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. It’s a protein called tau that forms clumps that slowly spread throughout the brain, killing brain cells.  This disease can be seen in athletes as young as 17, but their symptoms may not be seen until years later. Several symptoms are: mood and behavior swings, regression of impulse controls, aggression, depression, and paranoia; it may also contribute to memory loss, impaired judgment, confusion, and if let go for long enough, dementia. 

CTE was first discovered in 1928 when a doctor found these problems in boxers.  Over the next several years, researchers found more cases like this and they were able to put their findings together to figure out the catalyst for this disease. After studying brains that were donated to science, research indicates that this disease is most significantly caused by repeated and constant head trauma over a period of years, which mainly focuses on boxers, football, soccer, and hockey players.  These four sports have constant impact on the head from football tackles, soccer headers, boxers getting hit, and hockey players getting slammed into walls and starting fights. People may think that this is only common in people who have had a concussion, but that is not the case.  Just by incurring a simple head impact, or hit, can lead to CTE to begin.

If you have been playing a sport for a long period of time, your risk would be higher than someone who ended their career prematurely, for example.  Athletes love the sport that they play but they do not think of the life-threatening things that may come in the future. Brain injuries are serious things and should not be taken lightly because of the serious damage could come from it.   

This is a hard disease to treat because it is mainly analyzed after death when scientists look through the brain tissue.  Once the patient is able to realize the symptoms they are having, they are able to talk to the doctor and figure out what has happened in the past and if CTE could be the issue.  They are able to be treated through target therapies to be able to stop the symptoms and help limit CTE from spreading throughout the brain tissue. Mood changes, including depression, irritability, and anxiety, may be treated through behavioral therapy. The headaches can be treated with craniosacral therapy, massage, acupuncture, or medications.  Lastly, the memory problems are able to be treated with strategies to help build up things they will know, and try to help them with their everyday living.

CTE is a hard disease that isn’t fully treatable because it will not be fully known until after death.  Athletes just need to be more cautious with their sports to help them be healthier. Many people love what they do and they do not want to give it up, so there needs to be more ways to help prevent these injuries.  It is life-threatening and should be not taken lightly. Therefore, we need to be able to find ways to protect our athletes starting at a young age and to be able to prevent things from happening throughout their careers.