Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy



Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a brain disease found in people who have had repeated head injuries. It can lead to physical and mental problems that get worse over time.


Repeated head injuries can lead to a buildup of a protein called tau. These proteins create tangled masses in the brain. This causes changes in how the brain works. Tau is one of the proteins found in health issues like Alzheimer's disease and Down's syndrome.

Risk Factors

This risk of this problem is higher in people who have had past head injuries. The risk may be higher in people who:

  • Played contact sports such as boxing, football, hockey, wrestling, and soccer
  • Were in military combat
  • Were physically abused
  • Have had seizures
  • Have a developmental disability and harm themselves (head banging)


Problems may start many years after the head injuries. They also vary from person to person. A person with CTE may have:

  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Problems with focus
  • Poor decision making, such as acting without thinking
  • Mood changes, such as irritability and aggression
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Believing things that are not based in reality

People with severe problems may have signs of depression, such as feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may also ask about any past head injuries. This may be enough to suspect the diagnosis.

These tests may be done to learn more about the brain:

The only way to diagnose CTE is for a doctor to look at the brain after a person has died.

CT Scan of the Head.

Breast self-exam, step 5http://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=24032403si55551310.jpgCT Scan of the HeadNULLjpgCT Scan of the HeadNULL\\filer01\Intellect\images\si55551310.jpgCopyright © 2002 Nucleus Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.21NULL2002-10-012553912403_744866Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. There is no cure for CTE. Problems may be managed with:


People who have had a past head injury should not play sports until the doctor says it is safe.

The risk of this problem may also be lowered by taking steps to avoid head injury, such as:

  • Wearing a seatbelt in motor vehicles
  • Using safe, age-based sports methods for children
  • Wearing a helmet when:
    • Playing a contact sport like football, soccer, or hockey
    • Riding a bike or motorcycle
    • Using skates, scooters, and skateboards
    • Catching, batting, or running bases in baseball or softball
    • Riding a horse
    • Skiing or snowboarding




  • 2019 surveillance of head injury: assessment and early management (NICE guideline CG176). National Institute for Care Excellence (NICE). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551814.
  • Asken, B.M., Sullan, M.J., et al. Research gaps and controversies in chronic traumatic encephalopathy: a review. JAMA Neurology. 2017; 74 (10): 1255-1262.
  • Blast anatomy—chronic traumatic encephalopathy in military vets. Alzheimer Research Forum website. Available at: https://www.alzforum.org/news/research-news/blast-anatomy-chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy-military-vets?id=3159.
  • Encephalopathy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/encephalopathy.
  • Kowall, N. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and its connection with ALS. US Department of Veterans Affairs website. Available at: http://www.va.gov/RAC-GWVI/docs/Minutes_and_Agendas/Minutes_Nov2010_AppendixA_Presentation7.pdf.
  • Moderate to severe traumatic brain injury. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/moderate-to-severe-traumatic-brain-injury.
  • Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/prevention.html.
  • Traumatic brain injury. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/traumatic-brain-injury.


  • Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.