Thursday, May 17, 2012

Does Repetitive Head Trauma Cause Brain Injury?

On May 2, 2012, NFL linebacker and 12-time Pro-Bowl selection Junior Seau committed suicide. He had retired in 2010 after 20 years in the NFL. His death brings up once again the very real possibility that repetitive head trauma in high-impact sports such as football may lead to a permanent degenerative brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE.)

CTE can lead to depression, loss of memory, dementia, a loss of impulse control, and in the case of at least three ex-football players, perhaps even suicide. Former players are aware that there may be a looming problem with their future health, but no one knows how big the problem could be. One former player, Dave Duerson, allegedly committed suicide specifically so that his brain could be left to science for the study of CTE.

A possible association between repetitive head trauma and CTE was first proposed in 2002, when the neurofibrillary tangles that are indicative of CTE were found in the brain of deceased Pittsburgh Steeler center Mike Webster. The National Football League initially downplayed concerns, but when CTE was found in the brains of more than 50 deceased athletes who had participated in high-impact sports, the league changed its tune and has launched a comprehensive study to determine the extent of the problem.

Clearly, the NFL is between a rock and a hard place. A good, comprehensive study is sorely needed, but what if it shows that repetitive head trauma does lead to CTE? Many former players are already claiming that the dangers of repetitive head injury were ignored for too long. Over a thousand lawsuits are already pending against the NFL.

I’ll keep you posted as evidence for (or against) a causal relationship between head trauma and CTE becomes available. For now, we’re stuck with anecdotal reports, speculation, and of course, lawsuits.

No comments: