Chronic traumatic encephalopathy



What is chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the term used to describe brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas. CTE is a diagnosis only made at autopsy by studying sections of the brain.

How common is chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

CTE is a very rare condition. It has been found in the brains of people who played contact sports, such as football, as well as others. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

The common symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy are:

  • Difficulty thinking (cognitive impairment)
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Depression or apathy
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks (executive function)
  • Emotional instability
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior

Other suspected symptoms may include:

  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Speech and language difficulties
  • Motor impairment, such as difficulty walking, tremor, loss of muscle movement, weakness or rigidity
  • Trouble swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Vision and focusing problems
  • Trouble with sense of smell (olfactory abnormalities)
  • Dementia

The full list of symptoms of people with CTE at autopsy is still unknown. It is unclear what kind of symptoms, if any, it may cause. Little is known right now about how CTE progresses.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Suicidal thoughts. Research shows that people with CTE may be at increased risk of suicide. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself, call 911, your local emergency number or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).
  • Head injury. See your doctor if you have had a head injury, even if you didn’t need emergency care. If your child has received a head injury that concerns you, call your child’s doctor immediately. Depending on the signs and symptoms, your doctor may recommend seeking immediate medical care.
  • Memory problems.See your doctor if you have concerns about your memory or other thinking (cognitive) or behavior problems.
  • Personality or mood changes. See your doctor if depression, anxiety, aggression or impulsivity occur.


What causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

When you’ve had concussions or other blows to the head, they set off a slow series of events that may lead to brain problems.

Repeated brain injuries can lead to a buildup of tau, a protein that’s found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

Tau is not all bad. It stabilizes brain cells. But when it builds up due to impact to the brain, it tangles and clumps together. This slowly kills cells called neurons. The clumped tau also spreads to other cells and makes it harder for the brain to work. This is CTE.

Since not everyone with a history of brain trauma gets CTE, some researchers think other things, like genetics, may play a role. But head impacts are the only proven cause.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

Repeated exposure to traumatic brain injury is thought to increase the risk of CTE, but experts are still learning about the risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is chronic traumatic encephalopathy diagnosed?

Currently, there is not a test to determine if someone has CTE. Because CTE is a relatively new area of exploration for researchers and physicians, formal clinical guidelines for diagnosing and managing CTE do not yet exist. A definitive diagnosis can only be made through an autopsy after death.

Scientists are working to further understand CTE and to identify ways to diagnose CTE during life.

When CTE is suspected, a thorough medical history, mental status testing, neurological exams, brain imaging and further diagnostic tests may be used to rule out other possible causes.

How is chronic traumatic encephalopathy treated?

Today, there is no treatment and no cure for CTE. The only known way to prevent it is to avoid repeated head injuries.

Those with potential signs of CTE may benefit from some of the same types of care provided for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia (for example, behavioral approaches to deal with aggression).

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage chronic traumatic encephalopathy?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with chronic traumatic encephalopathy:

  • Cut back on activities
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Reduce physical activity if it increases your symptoms
  • Avoid too much computer time if this increases your symptoms
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Return to activities gradually, with guidance from your doctor
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and take only prescribed medication
  • Write things down or limit tasks, as needed
  • Ease back into work
  • Consult others before making major decisions
  • It is especially important to avoid a second concussion before the first one heals (second impact syndrome). A second concussion can result in permanent brain damage or death.

If you are caring for someone who has symptoms of CTE, he or she may benefit from supportive care similar to that of people with dementia.

  • Calming environment.Reducing clutter and distracting noise can make it easier for someone with dementia to focus and function. It may also reduce confusion and frustration.
  • Reassuring responses. A caregiver’s response can worsen behaviors such as agitation. Avoid correcting and quizzing a person with dementia. Offer reassurance and validate his or her concerns.
  • Modified tasks. Break tasks into easier steps and focus on success, not failure. Create structure and routine during the day to reduce confusion.
  • Regular exercise. A daily 30-minute walk can improve mood and maintain the health of joints and muscles, including the heart. Exercise can also promote restful sleep, prevent constipation, lessen symptoms of depression, help retain motor skills and create a calming effect. Try a stationary bike or chair exercises if walking is difficult.
  • Games and thinking activities.Encourage games, crossword puzzles and other activities that use thinking (cognitive) skills to help slow mental decline.
  • Nighttime rituals. Behavior is often worse at night. Establish calming bedtime rituals that are separate from the noise of television, meal cleanup and active family members. Leave night lights on to prevent disorientation.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: June 30, 2017 | Last Modified: June 30, 2017