Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a disorder caused by multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Experiencing repeated head trauma can put someone at risk of CTE. Football players, for instance, are frequently diagnosed with CTE because football is a high-contact sport that can often cause concussions.
However, a traumatic brain injury can also arise from an injury that is not a concussion. People who are at greater risk for these kinds of injuries include military veterans and sometimes survivors of domestic violence. If you have experienced an injury to the head, even if it did not present as a concussion, you should see a doctor to understand how it may have impacted you.
What Are the Symptoms of CTE?
People diagnosed with CTE may experience both short-term and long-term impacts. These symptoms show up as early as one’s 20s.
Some common symptoms of CTE include:
- Impaired judgment: Someone with CTE might make poor decisions as a result of the impairment.
- Executive function: One’s executive functions include planning, focus, memory, and the ability to multitask. All of these functions might be negatively impacted by CTE.
- Short-term memory: People with CTE may not be able to encode and retain information for more than a short period.
- Dementia: Rather than a disease, dementia refers to the impairment of thinking, memory, and execution of daily tasks. Alzheimer’s Disease is one common form of dementia. One need not be old to experience dementia.
If the traumatic brain injury impacts another part of the brain, functions associated with that part of the brain may be impaired. Such impacts are separate from CTE but may worsen the experience of living with CTE.
Some people with CTE also experience comorbid disorders, which are other disorders that occur alongside the CTE.
These might include:
- Aggression: People diagnosed with CTE may report increases in aggressive thoughts, reactions, or behaviors. This can create increased interpersonal conflict in the lives of those with CTE.
- Mood swings: People may also experience mood swings.
- Challenges with impulse control: People might have difficulty regulating their statements, responses, and actions. This can lead to a number of associated problems, including gambling addiction and substance use disorders.
- Depression: People diagnosed with CTE may also experience major depressive disorder. This can be a neurological reaction caused by the CTE or a reaction to the impacts CTE has on one’s quality of life.
- Anxiety: Both the experience of the accident that led to the CTE as well as the CTE itself can create feelings of anxiety.
- Paranoia: People with CTE also report feelings of paranoia, including feelings of being watched and irrational fears of situations that they may or may not have experienced.
These may be caused by CTE or may be caused by the traumatic brain injury that led to the CTE.
While CTE can only be diagnosed after death, people may be able to rule out other causes of their symptoms through an examination of medical history, neurological exams, brain imaging, and other mental tests. CTE is challenging to identify during one’s life because it may show up like dementia or Alzheimer’s, which may also arise as a result of the CTE.
CTE is associated with an abnormal buildup of a protein called tau, which is present in nerve cells. Tau buildup has been associated with both dementia and Alzheimer’s, but recent advances in brain imaging have shown that CTE is distinct from Alzheimer’s.
Future advances in medical technology may make diagnosis of CTE possible during one’s lifetime. For now, however, CTE can only be confirmed in an autopsy.
Living with CTE
While there is currently no cure or treatment for CTE, one may be able to live with the symptoms of CTE with medication, therapy, or both. Someone who suspects they may have CTE should discuss their options with a doctor.
Imaging and medical treatment for CTE symptoms can be expensive. If you experienced assault, a workplace injury, a car accident, or another incident that you think might have caused CTE, you should consult a lawyer.
If you opt to take legal action, the compensation may be able to cover any medical expenses associated with the incident. It can even compensate you for the pain and suffering that the incident caused.