Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disease that can occur in people who have a history of multiple head injuries [1]. This includes athletes and veterans. CTE is caused by the accumulation of abnormal protein tau that spreads throughout the brain and kills cells. CTE is associated with a number of changes including memory and thought processing problems, as well as changes in personality such as aggression and impulsivity. Eventually people with advanced CTE develop dementia [2]. Symptoms of CTE don’t normally appear until several years after the head injuries.

How is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) diagnosed?

There is no test to confirm whether someone has CTE while they are alive. A diagnosis can only be made after the person has passed away through an examination of brain tissue. Knowledge and research into CTE is ongoing. At this time, there is evidence that multiple hits to the head is the most important risk factor for developing CTE. People who are most at risk are contact sports athletes [3], military personnel and in some cases victims of intimate partner violence [4] because of the high risk of multiple head injuries. However, it may also be possible in individuals who sustained concussions in motor vehicle crashes [5]. It is important to note that not every person with a history of multiple head injuries will develop CTE.

This is the most current information about CTE. There are ongoing research projects to learn more about this condition. It should be noted that many current research projects, such as the CTE study at the Canadian Concussion Centre, are focusing on professional athletes. If you have questions about CTE, you should speak with your doctor about being referred to a neuro-specialist.

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