Research Reveals High Prevalence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Young Athletes

New research conducted at Boston University sheds light on the alarming prevalence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in young athletes. The study examined the brains of 152 athletes who died before the age of 30 and found that 41% of them had CTE, a brain disorder commonly associated with professional athletes. These findings, published in JAMA Neurology, also revealed that a 28-year-old American woman soccer player was diagnosed with CTE, marking a significant discovery.

Dr. Ann McKee, the director of Boston University’s CTE Center, emphasized the importance of the study’s results, particularly in demonstrating that CTE can manifest at an early stage in amateur players. However, diagnosing CTE in living patients remains a challenge, as the brains used in the study were all donated by the families of the deceased athletes who were symptomatic and concerned about their conditions.

Most of the athletes diagnosed with CTE had mild stages of the disease, although three individuals had reached Stage 3. Additionally, the presence of CTE often correlated with other brain injuries in these athletes.

The study’s summary highlighted the prevalence of clinical symptoms among the athletes, regardless of whether they had CTE. These symptoms included depression, apathy, difficulty controlling behaviors, problems with decision-making, and substance abuse. It is crucial to note that experiencing these symptoms does not necessarily indicate the presence of CTE.

Dr. McKee emphasized the need for proactive measures to protect young athletes. She hopes that parents, athletes, and coaches will adopt policies aimed at minimizing head impacts and reducing their frequency and intensity. For example, in football, this can involve implementing drills that exclude head contact during tackling and carefully regulating the number of practices and games. Similarly, checking and unnecessary violence in hockey and heading in soccer could be addressed to minimize head impacts.

The research serves as a wake-up call for the sports community, urging a reevaluation of safety policies and practices to safeguard the long-term brain health of young athletes.


What is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)?

CTE is a brain disorder associated with repeated head injuries, particularly in contact sports. It is characterized by the accumulation of abnormal tau protein in the brain, leading to cognitive and behavioral changes.

Can CTE be diagnosed in living patients?

Currently, it is not possible to diagnose CTE in living patients. Diagnosis can only be confirmed through post-mortem examination of the brain.

What were the common clinical symptoms observed among the athletes?

The study found that athletes, whether diagnosed with CTE or not, commonly experienced symptoms such as depression, apathy, difficulty controlling behaviors, problems with decision-making, and substance abuse.

How can young athletes be protected from head impacts?

To reduce the risk of head impacts, it is important for parents, athletes, and coaches to adopt policies that minimize the number and severity of head impacts in sports. This can involve implementing safer tackling techniques, reducing the frequency of practices and games, and addressing specific actions in sports like heading in soccer or unnecessary violence in hockey.