Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, Costa Mesa, California 

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, also know as (CTE), is a degenerative neurological disorder that happens to individuals who have endured repetitive blunt force trauma to the head. It is commonly seen in athletes such as American football players as well as in military veterans and it often shows neuropathological features and can cause post-concussion syndrome and neurodegenerative diseases.

Causes of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

When a repetitive head injury develops over time it can turn into progressive conditions that cause damage to the brain tissue and different brain regions, the temporal lobe and cerebral cortex. It affects cell processes and can cause brain degeneration over months, years or even decades following the most recent impact injury. Experts do not know the exact number of concussions it takes until you start to see progressive damage and they are still doing studies on it. It is possible that other aspects like family history can influence the evolution of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, however, that has not been fully confirmed. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in the later stages can lead to permanent brain damage or even progressive dementia.

Boxers fighting causing chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Common cognitive symptoms of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Cognitive impairment

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Short term memory loss
  • Issues with organizing and executing plans

Behavioral changes

  • Lack of impulse control
  • Aggression
  • Signs of dementia

Mood disorders

  • Depression or apathy
  • Impaired judgment
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior

Motor symptoms


  • Parkinsonism
  • Motor neuron disease
  • Lateral sclerosis
Football player with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Who is a risk for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Individuals who are the most prone to getting CTE are any athletes that participate in contact sports, including football or boxing. It is also seen military veterans who have been exposed to explosions that can cause trauma to the brain. 

4 stages of CTE

Stage I: During the first stage CTE symptoms include headaches, lack of attention and trouble with concentration.

Stage II: In the second stage, individuals with a CTE typically experience depression or mood swings, explosive emotional outbursts, and short term memory loss, in addition to the Stage I symptoms. The more rare symptoms that you may see during this stage include the impairment of executive functions, language difficulties, impulsivity, and the potential for suicide.

Stage III: In this stage we see behavioral disturbance and executive dysfunction, as well as feeling increasingly anxious, frustrated, confusion or personality changes.

Stage IV : This stage tends to be a combination of any or all of the symptoms in stages one through three.

Diagnosis of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

There is no definitive diagnosis for CTE but when CTE is a possibility, physicians will conduct a detailed examination of an individuals medical history as well as mental screenings, neurological exams, and brain imaging. In CTE there is usually a build up of a protein component called tau, which is also seen and Alzheimer’s and dementia. Experts are still working to see if they are directly related or not. 

Treatment for CTE at Choice Care

Currently there is no cure for CTE, however there are specific medicines that can provide temporary support or improvement for cognitive functions such as memory, critical thinking and behavioral symptoms. Always be sure to consult your doctor before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medication. While CTE has no definitive cure it may be prevented since it is associated with recurrent concussions. Individuals who have had one concussion are more likely to have another head injury or develop CTE so the best precautionary methods would be to always use protective gear and do try to avoid re-occurrent blunt force injuries.

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