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Research Indicates Head Injuries May Be the Cause CTE

Wednesday, September 12, 2018By Nina Shapirshteyn

The news surrounding chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the last few years has focused on the link between concussions and the development of the degenerative brain condition. As a result, concussion awareness has spread from professional sports organizations to children’s football and soccer leagues with the emphasis on recognizing and preventing concussive head injuries. But new research suggests that CTE may develop as a result of head injuries, and not concussions, as previously thought.

This new information could be transformative in terms of how we advise athletes to protect themselves from future brain disease. Focusing simply on the number of concussions rather than the number of blows to the head may be a misleading measure for assessing brain health and may lead to erroneous recommendations for athlete who have suffered injuries.

What is CTE?

CTE is a degenerative brain condition in which tau protein accumulates around the brain’s blood vessels. CTE is linked to mood changes, depression and aggression. Patients experience cognitive symptoms as the disease progresses including memory loss, poor judgment, and dementia. In contrast, a concussion is a mild brain injury that results in an altered mental state and is linked to confusion and dizziness.

Research Findings on Head Injuries

In the research study, the authors compared the brain pathology of teenagers after suffering head injuries and the brains of mice with head injuries. The pathology studies on mice showed leaky blood vessels and alteration in electrical function which may explain cognitive decline in people with similar injuries. The impaired pathology was not linked to any signs of concussion. The authors theorized that head impacts were associated with early development of CTE regardless of the presence of concussions.

The Link Between Head Injuries and CTE

The prevailing wisdom has been that multiple, repeated concussions increase the risk of CTE. Therefore, efforts have focused on assessing whether a person had a concussion, how many concussions he has suffered and whether the concussion has resolved. This new study suggests that we should be focusing on preventing repeated hits to the head. Evidence suggests that head injuries may cause blood vessels to seep proteins into brain tissue. These proteins can cause inflammation of the brain tissue that may be a precursor to CTE. Therefore, a reduction in the number of impacts to the head may be the best way to reduce the risk of CTE.

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