What We Know and Don't Know About Repetitive Hits to the Head
More and more research is proving that repetitive shaking of the brain or hits to the head whether from combat or contact sports can often result in long-term neurological decline.
So, what about the long-term impact of having multiple concussions? Well, what we know and what we don't know are two very different things. There's a term called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, otherwise known as CTE. It was reported by Ben Omalu down in Virginia several years ago and by Bob Cantu and Ann McKee in Boston. They looked at autopsy brains of athletes who we knew had multiple traumatic brain injuries, and they found changes in them. The problem right now is we don't know the incidence because millions and millions of people have played sports, so we found a few brains with this. How many people really have this and what's the risk that I or you would develop this is unclear. There's more we don't know than what we do know. What we do know is that there are people that have had multiple, traumatic brain injuries that suffer long-term neurologic sequelae. That we know. We've known that from the military for years. We're now recognizing in these athletes that are hitting their fifties, sixties and seventies. The question always asked to me is, how many of these people have dementia, cognitive decline because of this. Well, it's a complex answer because they've lived an entire life, and they've been exposed to millions of other things. So, how much of that is traumatic brain injury? How much of that is hypertension or whatever? Those are the issues that we need to answer. We're designing scientific experiments now because-- Why is that useful? We'd like to know how to prevent this. We'd like to tell people that are involved in things that may cause trauma what to avoid. And so, to much that we don't know that's science-- we've got to apply rigorous science to understand this. It isn't time to alarm the populace that they should stop doing things and put everybody in a bubble, but it is of concern that there are athletes, soldiers, people that have had traumas that have suffered neurologic decline down the road.
Posted on BrainLine October 23, 2012.
Produced by Vicky Youcha, Ashley Gilleland, Justin Rhodes, and Erica Queen, BrainLine.
Richard Ellenbogen, MD is a University of Washington professor and chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery. He is chief and attending of neurological surgery, Harborview Medical Center and the co-chair of the NFL's Head, Neck, and Spine Committee.