6 Things You Need To Know About CTE

Center for Disease Control and Prevention
6 Things You Need To Know About ChronicTraumatic Encephalopathy or CTE

This article provides a snapshot of what researchers currently know about chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. Research on CTE is growing. More studies can help answer many questions about this disease.

1. What is CTE?

CTE is a brain disease that results from changes in the brain. These changes can affect how a person thinks, feels, acts, and moves. Traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, and repeated hits to the head, called subconcussive head impacts, may lead to CTE.

2. What are Subconcussive Head Impacts?

Subconcussive head impacts are bumps, blows, or jolts to the head. Unlike concussions, which cause symptoms, subconcussive head impacts do not cause symptoms. A collision while playing sports is one way a person can get a subconcussive head impact.

CTE has been diagnosed in people who had a history of repeated subconcussive head impacts and did not have any known history of concussion.1,2 Researchers believe that the more years a person has repeated subconcussive head impacts or other brain injuries, the higher the chance they have of getting CTE.3

3. How Common is CTE?

Researchers do not know how many people in the United States have CTE. Most studies on CTE focus on former athletes who played contact sports (such as football or boxing) and military service members.

4. Occasional Hits to the Head Do Not Cause CTE

Not everyone who has repeated hits to the head or brain injuries will develop CTE. Occasional hits to the head, such as the bumps and tumbles that children take when learning to walk, do not cause CTE.

5. What are the Signs and Symptoms of CTE?

CTE symptoms can affect the way a person thinks, feels, acts, and moves. Symptoms do not show up in the same way for each person.4 Some people with CTE may first have problems with depression or anxiety. They may then later develop memory and other thinking problems that become serious enough to get in the way of their normal daily activities (such as social or work-related activities).1,4,5 Other people with CTE may experience memory and thinking problems first. Over time they may have mood or personality changes or become forgetful and struggle with daily tasks.1,4,5 Mental health problems can increase for those with CTE.4 The link between CTE and suicide is unclear.6

Symptoms of CTE are similar to those of other health problems. Having CTE symptoms does not mean a person has CTE. If you or a family member or friend have any questions or concerns, it is important to talk to a doctor. Treatments may be available to help.

CTE symptoms may affect how a person

  • Thinks
    Trouble with memory and problem-solving
  • Feels
    Changes in emotion (such as depression, hopelessness, or anxiety)
  • Acts
    Problems with behavior (such as anger or impulsivisty)
  • Moves
    Problems with coordination, greater rish of falling, or tremors

6. How is CTE Diagnosed?

Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed after death. To diagnose CTE, doctors check the brain for changes that happen to people with CTE. Through this process, doctors confirm whether the person had CTE or another disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease.7

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Study is Looking for Answers on CTE

NIH funded a large research study to learn how to diagnose CTE while a person is alive. Developing ways to diagnose CTE during life will help researchers learn more about the disease. It may also lead to treatments for CTE in the future.8


To learn more about CTE and other brain diseases: Visit National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Focus on Traumatic Brain Injuy Research.

You can read the Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport and learn more about it in this article from CBC News.

If you or someone you know needs to speak with a trained counselor:

The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans, their family, or friends with qualified caring responders:

  • Call the confidential toll-free hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or
  • Text to 838255


  1. McKee A, Stern RA, Nowinski C, et al. The spectrum of disease in chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Brain. 2013;136(pt 1):43-64. doi:10.1093/brain/aws307
  2. Stein TD, Alvarez VE, McKee AC. Concussion in chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2015;19(10):47. doi:10.1007/s11916-015- 0522-z
  3. McKee AC, Alosco ML, Huber BR. Repetitive head impacts and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Neurosurg Clin N Am. 2016;27(4):529-535. doi:10.1016/j.nec.2016.05.009
  4. Stern RA, Daneshvar DH, Baugh CM, et al. Clinical presentation of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Neurology. 2013;81(13):1122-1129. doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182a55f7f
  5. Mez J, Daneshvar DH, Kiernan PT, et al. Clinicopathological evaluation of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in players of American football. JAMA. 2017;318(4):360-370. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.8334
  6. Iverson GL. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy and risk of suicide in former athletes. Br J Sports Med. 2014;48(2):162-164. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092935
  7. McKee AC, Cairns NJ, Dickson DW, et al. The first NINDS/NIBIB consensus meeting to define neuropathological criteria for the diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Acta Neuropathol. 2016;131:75-86. doi:10.1007/s00401-015-1515-z
  8. Asken BM, Sullan MJ, DeKosky ST, Jaffee MS, Bauer RM. Research gaps and controversies in chronic traumatic encephalopathy: a review. JAMA Neurol. 2017;74(10):1255-1262. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.2396
Posted on BrainLine September 17, 2018.

Answering Questions About Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2018)

Comments (14)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

Im so glad this article has a comment section. I felt so alone as im 25 and am having all these symptoms and they get worse a bit every day. Im pushed meds even though my symptoms get worse anyways. I dont know what to do ive had 5 serious concussions one where i fractured my skull. I cant remember names of people ive met countless times im becoming more anxious and depressed literally all of these symptoms even the balance...

I have had multiple concussions... From sports related to head on with a dump truck at 80mph... Yet nobody will speak to me about CTE or any other TBI issues that I feel I am having..

Im 25 and am having the exact same issue ive had 5 serious concussions but im just pushed meds even tho my symptoms are still getting worse

I started playing full contact football at age 10. I played Pee Wee football in 1965 until high school, then played four years of high school football from 1969 to 1973, followed by four years of college football, finishing in 1977.
From the start we experienced helmet to helmet contact repetitively every day. I wouldn't be far off in saying I experienced "seeing stars" at least a couple times in every practice. I know I had at least seven concussions where I lost consciousness for some period of time. In those days they determined your suitability to return to practice or a game based on your ability to count the trainer's fingers. (yes, that was how they did it.)
I have lived with intermittent episodes of depression since high school and now, in my mid sixties, find myself depressed almost constantly. I have trouble sleeping and remembering names. I often have trouble completing a thought, stopping in mid-sentence trying to remember how my thought started. My wife is very patient and will attribute my "forgetfulness" to normal aging, telling me she has the same problems at times. In the past several months I have begun to experience increased levels of anxiety, often for the smallest things.
My doctor has given me a prescription for anti-anxiety medication just so I can sleep. I find sleeplessness to be another issue with suspected CTE, due to the anxiety.
Writing this comment hasn't been too difficult; I find I am better able to express myself in writing than speaking because I can delete and rewrite passages. Speaking out loud gets increasing harder and embarrassing when I suddenly stop talking because I've forgotten what I wanted to say or because I can't remember the next word.
I am certain I have some degree of CTE and just remain hopeful that I have a few more years of cognitive abilities before the darkness of dementia sets in. I have told my wife and adult sons to have my brain examined after I'm gone. And I admit there have been times when I have considered taking my life because there are days when lowered cognition combined with anxiety make things unbearable. Then I feel guilty because of the pain doing so would cause my lovely wife. Actually, were it not for her I would have probably checked out already. Sadly, I accidentally told her the other night that if I were to ever decide to end it, I would shoot myself in the heart so my brain would be intact for examination.
This is the first time I've put these thoughts into words and oddly enough, it gives me some comfort to do so.

I, too, played American football. Two years of Pop Warner and 4 years in high school. I was a ball carrier as well as a starting defensive back. Those 2 positions involve getting hit by big lineman as well as tackling runners who were often bigger than me. My dad used get angry with me because I wasn’t dong real well in school. I had trouble with maintaining concentration and being motivated. I dropped out of college because my grades were not good and I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career. After I got married, I went back to college and was able to earn a bachelor degree. Yet I was still lacking motivation to excel at anything. I started to use Adderral and took it for about 5 years. I noticed that, after a while, I needed stronger dosages. I was close to retirement, so I decided to stop taking it. During the recession, around 2009, I was laid off along with many other workers. I became depressed, but was fortunate to have a supportive spouse and an inheritance. I am now 70. I still lack motivation and I am taking meds for depression and anxiety. I am not a basket case. Yet I do have symptoms of CTE. I have not discussed this with my siblings. I have kept it to myself for years. Though now, I am ready to talk to them about it. My point is, you are not alone. We are in this together and I am hoping we can all enjoy life as we age gracefully.

I'm almost certain I have CTE. I have just about every symptom listed. And suffered from post concussion syndrome and unfortunately while trying to recover have continuously hit my head. Question being are there any studies or doctors that are willing to look into my case simply even for research because I would like help or at least be pointed in the correct direction.

Same here. Im 25 and can barely think or walk fast. I cant remember peoples names ive met countless times. Ive had 5 serious concussions one where i fractured my skull when i was 16. Ive been taking meds but my symptoms are still getting worse. Ive even had ect therapy (Electro Shock).

Learn new things it helps with firing dormant neurons in your brain that you damaged. Start to do and learn new things. I also deal with this from football. I have struggled with life in my late 20's early to mid 30's. Got a new job in my mid 30's that required me to problem solve on a daily basis and I am now 38 starting to feel better no more headaches, depression is very manageable without meds. Impulsivity is controllable I struggled badly with that for years. I don't know I'm not a doctor but I'm trying to find answers so I'm studying myself and seeing positive results from learning new things

This is just a post, but you should consider donating your brain one day when you die. So when that day comes, they can find a cte breakthrough.

If as child hit by a car from one side of the street to the sidewalk on her face cause CTE?
The child loss teeth and tore her mouth, right kidney and lacerated her liver. She was told she was in a coma. The length of time is disputed. Can this happen to the brain? The impact to the sidewalk cause CTE?

CTE can only be diagnosed after death. Sounds like she may have suffered TBI. I am not a doctor, you may want to look at Traumatic Brain Injury for help and resources. Her hospital records should tell you all you need to know. Go to records dept at the hospital and request them if you can.

Would you know a doctor in the US or Canada that specifically treats or know about CTE? My husband is an ex professional heavyweight boxer who was active for too long. He definitely has CTE but I don’t know where to start getting real help in this regard. The neurologist and doctors I spoke to doesn’t seem comfortable discussing CTE, like this is not a possible diagnosis someone can have. It seems like we are waisting time looking for the neurological problem yet it sounds so obvious to me.

I am sure I have CTE as I was a Professional bullfighter for over 10 yrs with many other concussions. I am 49 now and have many symptoms with anger issues. It is very hard to accept the problems and do not want it to affect my family. Suggestions, please?

I need suggestions too i feel as if im becoming brain dead. I cant remember anything and get so agitated over nothing