Mood swings, headaches, memory loss and depression are all symptoms found in the brains of former NFL players, even college and high school athletes. That's according to research released on Monday which shows more athletes are diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
A collaborative study was done by Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE), Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System and Sports Legacy Institute. They looked at people with a history of head trauma and found 68 cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.
"I always study the brain with the patient in mind, trying to solve the mystery of why they were acting that way," neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee said.
McKee has studied the brain for nearly three decades. She heads up the brain bank at the VA hospital in Bedford, MA, and is one of the co-founders of CSTE.
Mckee's latest research, along with other colleagues, involves the study of brains of deceased athletes and veterans.
The study found the degenerative brain disease CTE in 68 of 85 male brains, 64 of which were athletes. Of the 50 football players diagnosed, 33 played in the NFL, one in the Canadian football league, another played semi-pro, nine were college players and six played only in high school.
The damage is shown on slides made of the brain.
"You see in the football players with this condition they have these spots, clusters of abnormalities, and these individuals who have lived a long time with this condition it really has spread to involve the entire brain," McKee said.
Names just released that were studied and suffered from CTE are: NFL hall of fame tight end John Mackey and running back Ollie Matson, as well as running back Cookie Gilchrist. All three died last year. Former Boston College player Ron Perryman was included as was 18-year-old football and rugby player Eric Pelly. He died of complications because of a concussion. A well-known case already public is former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson. Duerson killed himself in February of 2011. He left a note with wishes for his brain to be studied.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Cantu said athletes with CTE experience a range of symptoms.
"Insight, judgement, attention, focus, those cognitive issues. There are also emotional symptoms. Controlling emotions, being more irritable, flying off the handle more easily and depression is also seen quite frequently," Cantu said.
CTE is a diagnosis that at this point, can only be made after death. Chris Nowinski, another co-founder of the CSTE, said the latest research is critical to finding a treatment for CTE.
"There's no question a significant percentage of athletes who played sports like football for a long period of time, more than 10 years, will experience this disease. We're trying to treat the disease, cure the disease, because we know that a lot of athletes out there have it," Nowinski said.
Others studied that were diagnosed with CTE were: boxers, hockey players and military veterans. The study also divided CTE into four stages based on symptoms.
The brain bank currently has 135 brains. More than 600 living athletes signed up for the brain bank registry to donate their brains after death.
The full study was published in this month's issue of scientific journal, Brain.
Copyright 2012 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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