If you follow football, you might have heard a lot about CTE lately. Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, has been under fire in recent years because of a lawsuit alleging that he knew about the dangers of CTE, but didn’t take steps to protect his players. The case has become so infamous that it’s even the basis of the movie Concussion starring Will Smith. But what exactly is this condition, and how can we prevent it?
What is CTE?
CTE stands for “chronic traumatic encephalopathy,” which is a disease that occurs from sustaining multiple violent blows to the head, usually over a period of years or even decades. It’s most often reported in competitive football players, boxers, and military veterans. The disease is progressive, meaning that victims lose cognitive function over time. CTE affects every person differently – some people may experience swelling of certain brain areas, while others suffer atrophy.
What Are the Symptoms of CTE?
CTE can have a wide range of symptoms. Some of the more common include:
- Emotional outbursts
- Memory loss
- Impulse control issues
- Difficulty with balance
Loved ones or the victim of CTE may dismiss these signs as a part of aging or personality. After all, many professional athletes display aggression on the field. A physician who is not familiar with a patient’s history may think it’s dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s. Anyone who has a history of repeated blows to the head experiencing these symptoms should consider the possibility of CTE.
How Is CTE Diagnosed?
Unfortunately, the only way we currently diagnose CTE is at autopsy. Victims of the condition often display plaques and the buildup of Tau protein, which contribute to CTE’s range of symptoms.
Since the recent lawsuit, both the NFL and the NCAA have passed a series of new rules that discourage head-to-head contact. If you know an athlete who is intent on practicing football, boxing, hockey, or any other activity associated with CTE, take the following precautions:
- Avoid head contact. Teach your linebackers to lead with their shoulders, and boxers to protect their faces.
- Check helmet fit. Ill-fitting protective equipment doesn’t protect your brain the way it was intended to. Have a coach check helmet fit and make adjustments as necessary. Make sure your loved one always fastens their chinstrap.
- Do a concussion check. If your loved one sustains a blow to the head, do a quick check to make sure they can go back on the field. If they’re disoriented, confused, or having trouble tracking with their eyes, take them to the nearest emergency medical facility.
CTE is a progressive, debilitating disease. While there is currently no way to diagnose the condition, those who experience repeated blows to the head should be on the lookout for the symptoms. While there is no cure for the disease, treatment focuses on preserving mental fitness and slowing the progression of the disease. In the meantime, you can wear adequate protection and limit direct head contact to reduce your risk of concussion, head trauma, and CTE.