CTE: Inconvenient Truth or Hype?
Recent reports have confirmed CTE in retired professional football players and other athletes who had a history of repetitive brain trauma. According to Boston University, this trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. It is characterized by brown spots that form around the brain’s blood vessels, interrupting normal functioning and eventually killing nerve cells. These changes in the brain can begin months, years or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of athletic involvement. The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and eventually, progressive dementia.
Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System, has worked with a team to evaluate 170 brains to understand the pathology of CTE. She also evaluated former college football player Michael Keck’s brain and said she never saw that kind of brain pathology in someone under 30. Keck played football for 16 years, according to a recent CNN article, starting at the age of six. Reportedly, he had more than 10 concussions – with the very first one at eight – and never received treatment.
A star athlete and stellar student, he received several college offers to play football, but opted for the University of Missouri in Columbia. During his freshman year he suffered a concussion on the field as a result of head trauma, where he lost consciousness. Headaches, neck pain, insomnia and anxiety persisted. He couldn’t remember things or concentrate. Keck returned to the field a few days afterward—with symptoms intact. By the beginning of his junior year, now at Missouri State, he hung up his cleats. His G.P.A. plummeted to 1.9 and he eventually dropped out of school with just 12 credits left to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Life and daily living took a turn as well. Keck became increasingly depressed, suicidal and abusive to his wife, Cassandra. The marijuana he used did little to dilute the anxiety and headaches. Keck knew something was wrong. He heavily researched CTE. Keck believed he had it.
“The challenging part about CTE is that it can’t be diagnosed in anyone who is living,” Dr. Greg Canty, a sports medicine physician at Children’s Mercy Hospital, told accessHealth. “There’s a lot of debate in the medical community like sports medicine, neurology and neurosurgery. Is this a new disease process, or is this redescribing something old? It appears to be something that we’ve known about for years because of some chronic changes in the brain. What we don’t know is exactly what leads to CTE. There is no direct evidence that having a concussion leads to CTE.”
Read the full story via AccessHealthNews.net.
Learn more about The Center for Sports Medicine at Children's Mercy.