Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a deterioration of the brain. It is caused by the buildup of a protein called tau. The brain damage caused by CTE can lead to severe mental and physical disabilities. The condition gets worse over time.
Researchers have a found a link between repetitive head injuries and CTE. The head injury may involve:
Over time, these injuries can be associated with a build up of abnormal groups of tau proteins. These proteins can create tangled masses in the brain. The tangles can block normal brain function. Similar tangles are seen in people with Alzheimer disease.
Having a history of head injuries puts you at risk for CTE later in life. Repetitive brain trauma (RBT) is the greatest risk factor for CTE. People who may be at the highest risk include those who:
The symptoms may develop many years after the head injuries.
Your doctor will:
To gain more information about your brain and to rule out other conditions, your doctor may order tests, such as:
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At the present time, the only way to clearly diagnose CTE is for a doctor to examine the brain after a person has died. This is how researchers are learning more about CTE.
Treatment for CTE is an area that is being studied. Depending on your symptoms, though, your doctor may recommend:
You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in head injuries.
When playing sports, you can reduce your risk of CTE by:
Other steps that you can take to reduce head injuries off the field include:
Boston University Center for Traumatic Brain Injury
Concussion Legacy Foundation
Ontario Brain Injury Association
Asken BM, Sullan MJ, DeKosky ST, et al. Research gaps and controversies in chronic traumatic encephalopathy: a review. JAMA Neurology. 2017;74(10):1255-1262.
Blast anatomy—chronic traumatic encephalopathy in military vets. Alzheimer Research Forum website. Available at: http://www.alzforum.org/new/detail.asp?id=3159. Published May 18, 2012. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Kowall N. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and its connection with ALS. US Department of Veterans Affairs website. Available at: http://www.va.gov/RAC-GWVI/docs/Minutes_and_Agendas/Minutes_Nov2010_AppendixA_Presentation7.pdf. Published November 2010. Accessed November 10, 2017.
McKee A, Cantu R, Nowinski C, et al. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in athletes: progressive tauopathy following repetitive head injury. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2009; 68(7):709-735.
Moderate to severe traumatic brain injury. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900588/Moderate-to-severe-traumatic-brain-injury. Updated October 16, 2017. Accessed November 10, 2017.
NINDS Encephalopathy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Encephalopathy-Information-Page. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Prevention: What Can I do to Help Prevent Concussion and other forms of TBI? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/prevention.html. Updated January 22, 2016. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Traumatic brain injury: hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Traumatic-Brain-Injury-Information-Page. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD Last Updated: 8/30/2013