CTE Can Now Be Detected in Living NFL Retirees

Signing your kid up for little league football has become such a huge question mark on everyone’s minds now because of recent event popping up in the last few years.


Certain scientific findings in the scans of brains from corpses of deceased American football players stirred some nerves and concerns back in 2012 but has recently made a breakthrough to reach the news today. Neurosurgery, published in their journal this week that made references to the fact that not only have they advanced in their research with CTE, but have successfully found a way to identify patients that have the disease while they are still living.

Symptoms are not the only thing they look for when trying to identify CTE, but are simply the pre-scanning portion of the exam. The full medical breakthrough exam, when trying to find traces of CTE include an experimental brain scanning technique, involving a radioactive component that traces the disease.

How the Scanning Works

It works sort of like a hound sniffing out tracks. This complicated medical design links itself to proteins that specifically are connected to CTE. Once it latches on and holds, the patient is ready to be scanned.

This tracer is then picked up by PET, positron emission tomography, scan, which is used normally when looking at brain activity. A PET scan is also a useful test that can monitor and show different tissues and organs. They are associated with the next step usually used to detect cancer after a person already passes through a CT scan and an MRI.

This test can be simply explained but is not so simply created. At first, a dye containing radioactive tracers is injected into your arm. The organs and tissues in your body are then apt to absorb the dye. When those taking the test then run the scanner, the image is then picked up showing the functionality and movement of your organs.

History of the Disease

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a brain disease that, with a degenerative nature, slowly spreads through your brain and kills cells.

Tau is the name of the protein that is responsible for doing the damage, and normally shows years after (late onset) traumatic and various impacts of the head. This is seen in military veterans but has taken an outstanding number of victims after their days of college and professional American football. It has also been found in various other athletes, where their sport includes repetitive and consequentially damaging head injuries.

The history of CTE can be dated back as far as 1928. Dr. Harrison Martland first discovered symptoms in boxers, but simply described it as something he called “punch drunk syndrome”. However, within the following century, other researchers found common symptoms in other boxers, as well, but the findings were never fully looked into.

Almost 80 years later, in 2005, pathologist Bennet Omalu found evidence for the disease CTE in Mike Webster, a former Pittsburgh Steeler player. Further after, there was enough research done to be aware what the disease needed to come about: basically, multiple repetitive impacts to the head.

If you have suffered a couple concussions in your life, however, you probably are not at risk. This disease has been associated with those who have gone through hundreds, maybe thousands of concussions. The impacts don’t even have to be full concussions either. Even half, or sub-concussive impacts, or even just hits to the head, if they have happened a large number of times, can make a person at risk.

Most of these people are associated with sports, like boxers, American football players, soccer players, and hockey. Some accounts of CTE, however, have been found in veterans of war and victims of domestic abuse.

Detection of CTE

Until recently, CTE was only possible to be diagnosed after death, by slicing brain tissue of the brain of the deceased. Using special chemicals, the clumps of the protein Tau would be then made visible. It was also not so simple, the process took several months to complete, and the knowledge of which was only found in a handful of doctors, not just your regular autopsy included a scan for CTE.

One of the most extensive studies looked into 111 deceased NFL players, and have drawn conclusions that 110 of them were reported with CTE. That’s 99 percent. Unfortunately, you don’t have to be professional either. If you are playing American football for several years, you can be at risk. Out of 202 people who had played the sport over the course of their lives, 87 percent of them were ruled with the disease.

The percentage of football players with the disease is astonishing, not only making it a common disease among these athletes but also increases the intensity and requirement for treatment and even higher.


Symptoms Associated with the Disease

CTE patients are often regarded with dementia, rapid mood swings and aggression, impulsive actions, anxiety, issues with memory and cognitive function, a short attention span and often displayed signs and symptoms of depression.

Those who have this disease, which, before now, was hard to track while the patient was still living, often show emotional instability and can even be linked to suicidal thoughts or behavior. These patients are also more likely to resort to substance abuse.

Though over a dozen of other retired players have already used the new scanning process, they remain to still be alive. Upon their deaths, the detection of the disease can then be confirmed. Since Fred McNeill partook in this new scanning, which had detected CTE within his brain while he was living, passed away in 2015 at the young age of 63, his CTE could be confirmed via autopsy. McNeill was a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings.

Unfortunately, to know for full statistics (not just one out of one case confirmed), researchers have to use the scanning method to detect the disease in the living and then find it in the autopsy once they are confirmed dead.

If you or a loved one you know might be displaying signs or symptoms related to CTE, please check with a doctor. There are ways to diagnose the disease without the confirmation of the scanner, but of course, it is not going to be 100 percent accurate.

Comment and share this article to spread awareness, so we don’t have to watch our loved ones suffer this terrible disease.


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CTE Can Now Be Detected in Living NFL Retirees

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