The head is the single most important part of our body, as it houses the brain, the mastermind organ behind everything that we do (or don’t do). The brain is the cornerstone of the Central Nervous System, and tells all the other parts of the body to go about doing the different tasks that they perform throughout our lifetime. For example, it makes sure that we are protected from nasty infections by raising our body temperature in the form of a fever, and stimulates the release of hormones when we are afraid or excited. These are just two examples of a practically limitless number of functions that the brain performs, so it’s only fair that this crucial, yet delicate, organ is encased in a sturdy protective shell. That’s precisely the reason why the human skull is so tough.
However, what happens when a person gets hit repeatedly on the head?
CTE: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
Although we know a lot about many diseases that can affect the human body due to rapid advances in medical technologies, but there are still a host of disorders and ailments lurking in the darkness of our ignorance. CTE is one such disease that was only recognized and proven in 2014.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE, is a degenerative disease that is usually observed in people who suffer repeated blows to the head. These people generally include athletes, such as boxers, wrestlers, American football players or other sportsmen, who experience consistent physical brain trauma. The biggest obstacle in the treatment of this ailment is that, as of now, it can only be detected after a person has died.
The Cause of CTE
The main cause associated with CTE is repeated physical trauma to the head, which can result in the degeneration of brain tissue. This leads to the release of a relatively unknown protein, called tau, which accumulates in the brain and damages brain cells. Other causes of CTE (apart from brain trauma) are currently unknown.
Symptoms of CTE
A person suffering from CTE can experience unusual (and sometimes harmful) levels of aggression, partial amnesia, dementia, confusion and lack of reasoning capabilities. The patient is also at a much greater risk of suffering from depression, chronic stress, and suicidal tendencies. They can also experience a gradual loss of cognitive abilities and motor disturbance, in some cases.
Unfortunately, the exact symptoms pertaining to CTE are not fully understood. This disease is further complicated because in most cases, these symptoms only begin to appears many years, or even decades, after the injury or trauma. This brutal, delayed impact makes this condition even more dreadful.
Cases in the Past
Many cases of CTE associated with the deaths of athletes (especially football players) that have surfaced recently. A significant number of these deaths, whether they were suicides or as a result of some brain disorder, are inherently associated with CTE. One famous pro football player, Adrian Robinson Jr, committed suicide earlier this year. Another retired football player, Dave Duerson, shot himself in 2011 and urged his family in his suicide note that his brain tissue be examined for the disease. The autopsies from both of these athletes revealed that they had CTE.
Since we do not have suitable techniques to detect the signs of CTE while a patient is still alive, it becomes imperative that the utmost care be taken with our brains throughout out lives. Also, the precise number of blows to the head that can lead to the accumulation of the tau protein is unknown, and likely different for every person. Therefore, the best defense technique we have is to be more cautious while playing high-impact sports and protect our head at all times.
- Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy – WIkipedia
- Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Athletes: Progressive Tauopathy Following Repetitive Head Injury – National Center for Biotechnology Information
- What is CTE? – Boston University