by Mia de Graaf, US Health Editor UU
As athletes of all sports talk about their fears about brain injuries, we review the facts they need to know about risks, symptoms, tests and research.
1. Concussion is a threat: great successes are not the problem, ALL hits on the head cause harm
All sports insist that they are doing more to avoid concussions in athletes to protect their brain health.
However, Boston University (the main center on this subject) published a pioneering study in January to demolish the obsession with concussions.
The concussions, they discovered, are the false trail: it is not a "big blow" that triggers the beginning of a neurodegenerative brain disease. Not a big hit either. it makes it more likely.
In fact, it is the experience of repeated sub-controlled successes over time that increases the likelihood of brain disease.
In short: any tackle or header in a game, or even in practice, increases the risk of a player developing a brain disease.
2. What is the dreaded CTE disease?
Head injuries can cause various brain injuries, including ALS (the disease that Stephen Hawking suffered), Parkinson's disease, and dementia.
But CTE is one that seems to be particularly associated with blows to the head (while others commonly occur in non-athletes).
CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is a degenerative disease of the brain that is caused by repeated blows to the head.
It is very similar to Alzheimer's in the way it starts with inflammation and the accumulation of tau proteins in the brain.
These groups of tau protein accumulate in the frontal lobe, which controls emotional expression and judgment (similar to dementia).
This interrupts normal functioning and blood flow in the brain, altering and destroying nerve cells.
Gradually, these proteins multiply and spread, slowly killing other cells in the brain. Over time, this process begins to trigger symptoms in the patient, including confusion, depression and dementia.
In the later stages (there are four stages of the pathology), the tau deposits expand from the frontal lobe (in the upper part) to the temporal lobe (in the sides). This affects the amygdala and the hippocampus, which controls emotion and memory.
3. What are the symptoms?
The victims and their families described them as "ghosts".
CTE affects emotion, memory, spatial awareness and control of anger.
- Suicidal thoughts
- Uncontrollable anger
- Forgetting names, people, things (like dementia)
- Refusing to eat or talk
4. Can patients be diagnosed during life?
No. Although a person may suffer clear symptoms of CTE, the only way to diagnose their CTE is through a post mortem examination.
More than 3,000 former athletes and military veterans have pledged to donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for CTE's investigation.
Meanwhile, there are several studies on current and previous players to identify biomarkers that can detect CTE.