Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

Premier Health providers answer frequently asked questions about the diagnosis and treatment of CTE.

Can CTE be prevented? If so, how?

The simplest answer is to avoid head injuries. You want to try to prevent concussions.  Unfortunately the risk for developing CTE is actually related to the total number of what we call sub-concussive hits. You may not even have to have a concussion that you recognize. Your brain just gets rattled a little bit — enough that it causes damage to the brain, but not enough that it causes obvious symptoms. It's those hits that that add up and cause the problem. It's not necessarily related to a single big hit.

What we want to try to do is reduce this risk of concussions. Some schools have reduced how much hitting they will allow in practice. We know that strengthening the neck helps stabilize the head, which in theory also helps protect the brain. However, we also know that right now we don't have any particular equipment that will completely help prevent that. There's research being done on helmets and mouthpieces, but there's not a lot of data that shows that improvements to either will make a difference. There's also a genetic predisposition for CTE but testing is not currently available. We do know, however, that there's a certain gene that places you at greater risk for CTE, so hopefully we’ll be able to test for it in the future.

When you do get a concussion, you should carefully evaluate if you should continue the activity that helped to cause it. There are certainly many benefits to sports, but it’s wise to consider the various pros and cons of continuing in something that might place your health at greater risk.

    Source: Michael Barrow, MD, Premier Health Family Care - North