What is CTE?
Bill Allen | May 18, 2023 | Brain Injuries
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive and degenerative brain disease that, instead of resulting from a virus or other pathogen, is caused by repeated head trauma. Doctors do not fully understand exactly how CTE begins or evolves, but they know that a history of head injuries, even minor ones, can cause it.
Unfortunately, CTE patients never recover. Instead, they slowly lose their cognitive and emotional abilities until they pass from the disease or do so as a result of its devastating effects.
What is the Structure of Your Brain?
The central nervous system controls the entire human body, including its organs and muscles, and control of the system is handled by the brain.
The brain is made up of neurons, which communicate with each other using both chemistry and electricity. Neurotransmitters cause neurons to change their electric charge, and when an adjacent neuron senses that change, it too alters its charge.
These electric signals travel through your brain and into your body almost instantaneously. More specifically, the nervous system carries three types of signals between the body and the brain.
Firstly, motor signals work to move muscles to carry out voluntary movements. Autonomic signals control organs to handle involuntary functions, such as blood circulation and digestion. Lastly, sensory signals provide the brain with information about the environment that is gathered by the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin.
The brain also regulates cognition and memory. Every thought originates in the brain, and as it creates, stores, and retains memories, a person is able to learn new information and recall prior events.
What Causes CTE?
Doctors understand that CTE only develops in people with a history of repeated brain trauma.
As a result, CTE tends to manifest in the following groups:
- Athletes, including amateurs
- Members of the military, particularly combat soldiers and marines
- Workers in industries like construction, which experience a lot of head injuries
- People exposed to repeated explosions, like miners or oil and gas workers
Notably, the brain injuries that lead to CTE do not need to incapacitate the victim. Even repeated mild brain injuries can cause CTE, which is why athletes can develop the condition despite having never been diagnosed with a concussive injury.
Merely “having your bell rung” multiple times in an athletic career could lead to CTE, though, notably, the brain trauma responsible for the disease can come from any source.
Suppose that you work as a construction worker, and at one point, you suffer a workplace accident by falling and hitting your head. In another incident, a tool falls and strikes your hard hat, and in yet another accident, you bump your head when a cement truck hits your car on a job site.
Even though each of these incidents injures you in a different way and causes injuries of differing severity, the repeated head trauma from these construction accidents accumulates and could cause CTE.
Doctors may not know the exact details behind CTE, but a key difference between the brains of CTE patients and healthy ones is derived from their tau proteins, which are damaged when the brain suffers trauma. The body replaces them, but the replacement proteins stick together and form tangles.
These tau protein tangles can be characteristic of another neurodegenerative condition — Alzheimer’s disease — but the tangles that are indicative of Alzheimer’s differ in appearance from those of CTE.
What Are the Symptoms of CTE?
The only way to definitively diagnose CTE is by dissecting the brain post-mortem, as only then can doctors examine brain samples for the tau protein tangles that are characteristic of CTE. However, prior to death, doctors can provide a possible CTE diagnosis based on the patient’s medical history and symptoms.
Some symptoms of CTE include the following:
- Memory loss
- Emotional instability
- Increased risk-taking
- Angry outbursts
- Personality changes
- Suicidal thoughts
CTE has moved into the public’s consciousness recently because of several high-profile cases involving professional athletes. Aaron Hernandez, a professional football player, was implicated in two murders and had a history of fights, shootings, and domestic violence. After he committed suicide in prison, his family donated his brain to CTE researchers, who found that he had suffered from one of the most severe cases of CTE they had ever seen.
Other athletes susceptible to CTE include boxers, MMA fighters, and hockey players. Researchers have even found that soccer players and athletes involved in sports considered “safe” (only involving incidental contact) can still develop CTE.
Perhaps most importantly, they found that players do not need a lifelong career to develop CTE: Even a high school athlete could develop and suffer from it.
Liability for CTE
CTE patients face a lifetime of expenses related to:
- Medical care
- Physical therapy
- Mental health counseling
Doctors cannot cure CTE, and its symptoms will only worsen until death, so patients will often seek compensation from those legally liable for the disease’s effects. Some parties that carry potential liability for CTE are as follows:
Many sports leagues and organizations have known about CTE for longer than they admit.
Boxing promoters in the early 1900s, for instance, knew that boxers could become “punch drunk” after a fighting career. The NFL may have known about links between concussions and CTE, given a study completed in 1997, over 19 years before the NFL publicly understood the risks of CTE.
Sports leagues that know of the risks but fail to warn players may have liability for any subsequent injuries.
Like sports leagues, employers have a responsibility to warn their workers of known risks and take reasonable steps to protect them. If an employer knows that workers have an increased risk of CTE and fails to provide adequate safety equipment, it may bear liability for any resulting injuries.
Safety Equipment Manufacturers
Equipment manufacturers that sell defective equipment are liable for injuries that result from such defects. For example, if a helmet manufacturer sells its helmets as “concussion-proof,” it might bear liability for failing to warn users of the risks of CTE.
Similarly, a manufacturer that fails to build helmets that meet safety specifications might bear liability for the design and manufacturing defects in the helmets.
Recovering Compensation for CTE
CTE is a complicated condition because patients may have difficulty proving its cause. Given that CTE only develops later in life, it could have a myriad of potential causes, making things even harder. If you or a loved one has developed CTE, consider speaking to a personal injury lawyer about pursuing compensation.
Contact Our Ocala Personal Injury Law Firm in North Central Florida
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