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What is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)?

You may have heard the term chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the news quite a bit lately. It is linked to repeated head traumas, such as those suffered by athletes who play contact sports, most notably football and boxing. While the condition is still not fully understood, it is linked to a range of very serious effects that can have life-altering consequences. 

Symptoms of CTE 

CTE can only be officially diagnosed by studying sections of a person’s brain during an autopsy. However, there are symptoms that appear in individuals who have experienced repeated head traumas throughout their lives. Cognitive problems that impair thinking ability are a key feature, as is the loss of short-term memory. Executive function can also be impacted, which allows a person to plan tasks and see them to fruition. People suspected to have CTE also exhibit increased impulsivity, as well as substance abuse problems. 

Mental health problems are also linked to this disorder. These can present as depression, which is characterized by a loss of interest in people and activities, a persistent feeling of sadness, and a lack of motivation. CTE may also lead to suicidal ideation, and some people even engage in suicidal behavior as a result of repeated head trauma. 

When to See a Doctor 

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to diagnose CTE. People who have experienced repeated head injuries and experience the above symptoms are encouraged to visit a doctor to discuss their symptoms. From there, you may be referred to different specialists, who can help address different facets of the disorder. For example, a psychiatrist can help you manage emotional and mental health issues, such as depression. 

The best thing you can do to prevent CTE from occurring is to manage your risk when it comes to head injuries. If you have already experienced a concussion, discuss it with your doctor. Do not return to the activities that caused the concussion until you are given the all-clear from medical staff. If you or a loved one plays contact sports, do not be pressured into performing if you have recently experienced an injury. 

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