Concussion Crisis: A Guide to CTE

If you’ve been involved in a sport or military organization within the last few years, you’ve probably heard a little bit about CTE. CTE is a degenerative brain disease that’s become a major issue in the media. For example, the 2015 movie Concussion, which starred Will Smith and Alec Baldwin, told the true story of the NFL trying to suppress a scientist’s damning CTE research.

If you’ve ever played contact sports for a long period of time or have a job or lifestyle where you often experience head trauma, it’s probably concerning for you to learn about this disease. However, it’s important to spread knowledge of CTE around as much as possible, so we can focus on treating people before it begins to negatively impact their life.

What is CTE?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a brain disease that’s caused by repeated impacts to the head. Many people associate it with concussions, but that’s not actually true. It’s not really about the severity of the impact to the head, it’s about how many times it happens and over how long. It’s often found in soldiers, professional athletes, or people who have been the victim of ongoing domestic violence.

In essence, what happens when you get hit in the head repeatedly is that a protein in the brain called tau starts to form clumps. These clumps eventually spread throughout the brain, killing the formerly healthy brain cells.

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History of CTE

CTE was first recognized among boxers. Doctors started noticing a similar pattern of behavior among older boxers who had been competing in the sport for a long time. They referred to their odd behavior as “punch drunk syndrome.” The first doctor to use the phrase “punch drunk syndrome” was Macdonald Critchley in 1949, but it took another few decades to confirm similar cases in boxers, and gather enough evidence to publish a formal analysis.

Another well-known doctor who made a name for himself in the field of CTE research was Dr. Bennet Omalu, whose story is told in the movie Concussion. Dr. Omalu’s research inspired the creation of a brain bank, the function of which was to collect brains that were specifically donated post-mortem for scientific research purposes.

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