What is CTE?
David Muñoz | April 15, 2021 | Brain Injuries
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain condition. CTE causes the brain to atrophy, leading to many debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, mood changes, and confusion.
While scientists do not understand the exact cause of CTE, studies of athletes and military veterans suggest that repeated brain injuries substantially increase the risk of developing CTE.
Here are some facts about CTE and the ways it can affect an injury claim.
What is CTE?
An image of the brain of someone with CTE will show substantial shrinkage and tangles of neurofilaments. No one knows how CTE occurs. But the current theory holds that repeated impacts to the head cause neurons in the brain to weaken and tear.
The neural damage from a single incident might not be enough to produce symptoms. But the damage could accumulate from repeated impacts.
One form of the damage results from Tau proteins inside the neurons. Tau proteins have a sticky surface that provides a support structure for the inside of the neurons. But when they tear, the Tau proteins float freely inside the neural cells. Their sticky surfaces attach to each other and begin to form clumps. These clumps spread through the brain, which is what allows doctors to identify CTE in autopsies.
Scientists believe that the sticky clumps of Tau proteins gum up the works inside of neurons. Scientists often find clumps of Tau proteins in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s. This common connection has led scientists to theorize that clumps of Tau proteins may cause many of the cognitive symptoms shared by people suffering from this disease.
What Does CTE Stand For?
CTE stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This phrase describes the disease rather than its causes, as its exact causes are not known. Let’s take a look at each of the elements in CTE.
Chronic refers to the disease because it cannot be cured. Chronic also refers to the supposed cause of CTE — chronic trauma. Doctors believe that repeated brain injuries lead to CTE.
Trauma refers to the mechanism that can start the chain of events that lead to CTE. Traumatic brain injuries like blunt force injuries and concussions damage brain cells. This damage can begin the degeneration of the brain tissue.
Encephalopathy encompasses any disease that affects the brain’s structure or function.
For example, encephalopathy can include changes in the brain caused by:
- Bacterial infections
- Brain injuries
Encephalopathy includes both treatable conditions and incurable, progressive, or degenerative conditions, like CTE.
CTE is rare. It usually strikes patients in their early adulthood. However, this might be because younger people engage in many of the activities that lead to CTE.
For example, doctors commonly diagnose CTE in:
- Hockey players
- Football players
- Soccer players
- Rugby players
- Martial artists
- Combat soldiers and marines
- Assault victims
Some of the symptoms exhibited by people with CTE include:
CTE can cause cognitive difficulties, such as confusion, disorientation, and difficulty making decisions. People with CTE may have difficulty remembering things. This can lead to communication problems when they forget words or lose their train of thought. They can also become lost or wander off.
CTE can cause tremors, slow movement, and muscle stiffness. Some people with CTE have slurred speech.
People often notice the behavioral symptoms of CTE first. CTE can cause changes in behavior. Someone with CTE may become impulsive and erratic. They may become emotionally unstable and suffer from severe mood swings.
People with CTE can become depressed and apathetic about the people and things they used to care about. They may become suicidal. People with CTE may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.
Doctors usually cannot diagnose a brain with CTE from MRIs or other types of brain scans. Instead, they must perform an autopsy after death to examine sections of the brain. An autopsy will reveal atrophy of the brain tissue. Microscopic examination of the brain cells can reveal the presence of Tau proteins.
Rather than relying on brain scans to diagnose CTE, doctors usually rely on a combination of symptoms and the patient’s prior history of brain trauma to diagnose CTE. Doctors are aware of a CTE football link and will ask patients with symptoms of CTE about their participation in contact sports.
Doctors may also ask about combat injuries since exposure to explosions can lead to blast-induced brain injuries. Repeated domestic assaults can also cause brain injuries that lead to CTE.
CTE does not require severe brain injuries to set off the chain of events. Instead, it only requires that the brain suffer damage powerful enough to tear the brain cells and release Tau proteins.
Despite its name, CTE does not necessarily require regular brain injuries. Just one or two brain injuries may be sufficient to begin the formation of Tau protein clumps.
Preventing CTE Brain Injury
Head protection can reduce brain damage from an impact to the head. Less damage means a lower likelihood of CTE.
But the only way to avoid CTE is to refrain from contact sports and combat. Any head trauma can tear neurons and begin the progression of CTE.
CTE and Injury Claims
Anytime you suffer a brain injury, you should consider the possibility that the injury will lead to lifelong problems. Whether your brain injury occurs in a single automobile accident or from repeated nursing home abuse, the strain on the brain tissue can have long-term effects.
Unfortunately, CTE can take time to develop. By the time that a victim exhibits symptoms of CTE, doctors may have no way to identify the cause.
Many of the activities that can result in CTE are voluntary. Defendants in California cases can assert “assumption of risk” as a defense to injuries resulting from voluntary activities. Suppose you voluntarily and knowingly participate in a risky activity and suffer a foreseeable injury. In that case, a California jury could find that you assumed the injury risk by participating in the activity. If this defense works, you may not be able to recover any compensation.
An injury lawyer might find a way to overcome the defense. If you did not receive adequate safety equipment or the safety equipment failed, you may still have a case for CTE.
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