Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

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

How is CTE diagnosed?

Unfortunately, the only way to make an official diagnosis is on special stains of the brain, which necessitates that it's always a postmortem diagnosis. We can certainly conjecture that someone may have CTE if they were involved in contact collision sports or in the military and had a number of head injuries, even if they weren't considered severe. One could assume that someone might have CTE if they had previous head injuries and go on to develop memory or behavior issues. The first thing that typically appears is a change in behavior that might even be aggressive or violent. We certainly have heard about that with some of the NFL players who have gone on to be diagnosed with this, but the only way to make an official diagnosis is in the autopsy room. We can't otherwise make a final diagnosis since it is different than other forms of dementia.

Oftentimes people think that this is just like Alzheimer's disease or other form of vascular dementia, but it really isn't. It is very specifically caused by something in the environment — head trauma — and the only way we can know this is through pathology stains in the lab. Stains look different if they’re CTE versus Alzheimer's disease versus a vascular dementia versus a stroke, etc. Although from the outside it might seem like these are all somewhat the same, the reality is they're not.

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