Study finds repeated hits to the head can cause CTE, without concussions

Posted January 20, 2018

Boston University researchers have found that even mild hits to the head can cause degenerative brain disease - giving more weight to the mounting claims that children should not play contact sports.

The study's finding is important because efforts to protect athletes focus on preventing concussions rather than repeated hits to the head, says Christopher Nowinski, co-director of BU's Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.

Researchers examined four postmortem brains from teenage athletes who had endured head injuries that did not qualify as concussions, ranging from one to 128 days before death. Within 24 hours of the head injury and death due to the injury, the scientists could detect the changes in the brain that could indicate CTE.

The Alzheimer's-like disease has been most commonly associated with former professional football players, but has also been detected in military veterans, including many who have been exposed to roadside bombs and other types of military blasts. "It can heal itself, but yet small injuries over time can lead to significant chronic damage, so it's just going to take time for us to understand the brain", Tran said. "This is the first experimental evidence to solidly say that it's the hits, not concussions, that count for CTE". She said she plans to be vigilant but still support her children as they play sports.

The researchers argue that their findings published in the journal Brain provide a strong causal evidence that links head impacts to both traumatic brain injury and early CTE, "independent of concussion".

Medical experts later said his condition was the most severe case of CTE ever discovered in someone his age and would have affected his decision-making, judgment and cognitive abilities. The brains of those who did not experience head injuries did not have the same signs, the researchers state. "The hits no one is paying attention to". Until now, the focus was on any concussions they received. Lee Goldstein with Boston University's School of Medicine.

"To prevent the disease, you have to prevent head impact - it's hits to the head that cause CTE", added Dr. "It's hits to the head that cause CTE".

McKee and colleagues suspect that early CTE could result from damaged brain blood vessels that leak blood proteins into nearby tissue, causing inflammation of the brain.

Individuals suffering from CTE will suffer gradually deterioration of their brains and will end up losing brain mass over the years or decades. But, he remains optimistic for the future of football. The study also found CTE diagnoses in 87 percent of 202 former football players, including high school, college, NFL, CFL and semipro.