On February 3, when you’re watching football players pound each other in the Super Bowl, spare a care for the big guys’ brains, which take a beating during play. Concussions are very common among football players, what with all the crashing into each other headfirst. Those concussions can have dire results. In fact, more than 2,000 former professional football players have sued the National Football League on the grounds that the NFL downplayed the dangers of repeated concussions.
Repeated concussions appear to be related to neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease. Also indicated is a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The symptoms for CTE include depression, memory loss, aggression, and mood swings. Patients can exhibit full-blown dementia in the condition’s late stages. Several suicides of NFL players have been blamed on CTE.
Neuroscientists are studying CTE in efforts to limit its devastation. The disease begins when the brain is not allowed time to heal after repeated jolts. The brain loses mass, and parts of the brain begin to atrophy. Eventually, a dense, abnormal protein called tau accumulates in brain tissue. Until recently, tau could be detected in the brain of a CTE victim only during an autopsy. By December 2012, evidence of CTE was found in the brains of 33 former NFL players following their deaths. Now, thanks to positron emission tomography, or PET scanning technology, researchers reported in a new study that they can detect tau in living patients by injecting them with a radioactive marker, which latches on to the protein. Recently, five living retired NFL players underwent the process, and tau was found in their brains. Although there is no way to reverse the effects of tau buildup, neuroscientists hope that the new diagnostic method will help them identify the protein long before symptoms become dire. As one of the study’s authors said, “It’s not the perfect holy grail . . . but for now it seems to be showing us what we’re looking for.”
Image credit: © Sebastian Kaulitzki/Alamy
Scan May Detect Signs of NFL Players’ Brain Disease
Watch videos about specific NFL players and get the basics on the study here.
(Source: CNN Health, January 23, 2013)
More Cases of Brain Disease Found in Football Players
Watch a video featuring Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon, commenting on the dangers of brain trauma.
(Source: CNN Health, December 4, 2012)
Does Football Have a Future?
This writer’s view of football’s health crisis includes a historical look at sports injuries.
(Source: New Yorker, January 31, 2011)
Concussions in American Football
This article contains many details about concussions in college and professional football.
(Source: Wikipedia; accessed January 31, 2013)
Concussion in Sports
Follow the FAQs and links to find educational materials, posters, videos, PSAs, and much more about concussions and high school sports.
(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; accessed January 31, 2013)