Could Living Football Players Be Overdiagnosed for CTE?

Are Current Football Players Being Overdiagnosed with CTE?

Are Football Players Being Overdiagnosed for CTE?

Is It CTE or Just a Mood Swing?

Former pro football players who are feeling down or anxious might want to be cautious before receiving an unverifiable diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). A recent study revealed that players with symptoms of depression are 9.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with CTE, while players with both depression and anxiety are a whopping 12 times more likely to receive the same diagnosis.

But here’s the catch: CTE can only be definitively diagnosed through a brain autopsy. Yes, you heard that right. You have to be six feet under for a proper CTE diagnosis. So, if a doctor informs you that you have CTE while you’re still alive and kicking, it’s a bit problematic since there is no reliable test to confirm CTE in a living person.

The Dangers of Misdiagnosis

The real concern here is that doctors might be missing the mark by attributing these players’ symptoms to CTE. Instead, the symptoms of depression and anxiety can be effectively treated if properly identified. Depression, anxiety, and other conditions like sleep apnea produce cognitive symptoms that can be mistaken for CTE. However, these conditions are treatable, unlike CTE, which has no available treatment or diagnosis for the living. So, it’s essential for healthcare professionals to distinguish between these mood disorders and neurodegenerative diseases like CTE.

CTE: The Ticking Time Bomb

CTE is a degenerative brain disease typically caused by repeated head impacts and concussions. While it is commonly associated with contact sports like football, it has also been found in military veterans and individuals with a history of repeated brain trauma. Although specific brain changes linked to CTE, such as the buildup of a protein called tau, can be detected during an autopsy, there are no clear symptoms that definitively point to CTE.

The list of possible CTE symptoms includes trouble thinking, memory loss, impulsive behavior, aggression, mood disorders, substance abuse, and problems with movement, walking, and balance. However, these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, adding to the complexity of diagnosing CTE in living individuals.

Physician, Diagnose Thyself (Correctly)

To conduct their study, researchers reviewed responses to a health survey completed by more than 4,000 former pro football players. Out of these respondents, 77 individuals reported being diagnosed with CTE by a doctor, accounting for approximately 2% of the participants. The study found a significantly higher likelihood of a CTE diagnosis among players with depression or a combination of depression and anxiety.

The researchers suggest that intense media attention on CTE might be driving doctors to diagnose the condition based on symptoms associated with mood disorders. They stress that physicians should focus on treating the underlying conditions like depression, anxiety, or sleep apnea that may be causing the symptoms instead of prematurely jumping to a CTE diagnosis.

A Murky Playing Field

Dr. Charles Bernick, a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, agrees that doctors need to be cautious when diagnosing CTE in former players. While CTE cannot be diagnosed, treating the symptoms of these conditions is within the physician’s power. However, Dr. Bernick notes that most doctors are already conservative in diagnosing CTE, highlighting the importance of making accurate evaluations.

According to Chris Nowinski, CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, diagnosing CTE is a challenge for doctors treating former NFL players. Studies have indicated that at least 10% of former NFL players exhibit CTE pathology, with the true prevalence likely being even higher. Although the clinical correlates of CTE are not entirely understood, it is a serious condition that should not be taken lightly. While doctors may provide a suspected CTE diagnosis when all other disorders have been ruled out and progressive cognitive impairment is present, they should simultaneously address mental health symptoms with equal vigor.

A Game of Diagnosis

At the end of the day, the study’s results highlight the importance of cautious, evidence-based diagnosis. It’s crucial that healthcare professionals properly evaluate and treat conditions like depression, anxiety, or sleep apnea in former athletes, rather than prematurely attributing the symptoms to CTE. The complexity of diagnosing CTE while patients are alive emphasizes the need for doctors to stay vigilant in distinguishing between neurodegenerative diseases and psychological conditions.

So, if you’re a former player concerned about potential CTE, make sure to seek care from a medical professional who will treat your symptoms with accuracy and care. Remember, the game doesn’t end when it comes to mental health – it’s crucial to consider all the variables on the field of diagnosis.

Stay informed, stay healthy, and keep your head in the game!