What is CTE?

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You may have seen the term CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) recently. Maybe it was in a news article about football players or maybe in the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith. CTE has been getting more attention lately as evidence mounts that the condition is more of a problem than anyone ever knew. 

In the past, CTE was known as dementia pugilistica and thought to be a problem only for former boxers. We now know that CTE is a problem for many athletes, soldiers, and anyone else who is subject to repeated head injuries. So what exactly is CTE? 

CTE is a progressive degenerative disease. It is caused by repeated injuries like concussions, traumatic brain injury, and more minor head injuries. The cumulative effect of these injuries is what causes CTE. Symptoms generally begin showing 8-10 years after the injuries. The most common symptoms are loss of memory, difficulty controlling impulsive or erratic behavior, impaired judgment, behavioral disturbances including aggression and depression, difficulty with balance, and a gradual onset of dementia. 

CTE has received a lot of media attention lately due to its prevalence among players of America’s favorite sport, football. According to research by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University, the brain disease has been found in 96% of NFL players and 79% of all football players they have examined. The disease can only be diagnosed by a post-mortem examination, so it is not known how many current athletes are suffering from the condition.