5 things to know about CTE

Updated 10:28 AM EDT, Wed April 26, 2017
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Story highlights

CTE results from repeated hits to the head

A study found that 96% of former pro football players have the brain disease

A variant of CTE was documented as far back as 1928

(CNN) —  

The list of football players with a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, continues to grow. But what exactly is CTE? Here are five things you need to know:

1. CTE isn’t just about concussions

A concussion is a brain injury that occurs from a blow to the head. But it’s not just concussions that have researchers worried. Most scientists believe that CTE is a result of repeated, or sub-concussive, hits to the head. The concern is that each time the head takes a pounding, it shakes the brain inside the skull. All that sloshing around can lead to a buildup of an abnormal protein called tau, which can take over parts of the brain.

2. Harder helmets aren’t the answer

People like to point to safer helmets as a solution, but helmets can’t do anything to protect your brain from sub-concussive hits. Imagine your brain like an egg; the shell is the helmet; the yolk is your brain. Just because you have a thicker shell, like an egg carton, doesn’t protect the yolk from moving back and forth whenever the egg is shaken or moved around.

3. Football players aren’t the only ones who need to worry about CTE

Despite all the talk about football players, they aren’t the only ones concerned about CTE. The disease has been diagnosed in soccer and baseball players, and possibly even in military veterans. In fact, the first mention of CTE was a disease in boxers called “dementia pugilistica” or “punch-drunk” syndrome in a 1928 issue of the Journal of American Medical Association. The article said, “For some time, fans and promoters have recognized a peculiar condition occurring among prize fighters which, in ring parlance, they speak of as ‘punch drunk.’ Fighters in whom the early symptoms are well recognized are said by the fans to be ‘cuckoo,’ ‘goofy,’ ‘cutting paper dolls,’ or ‘slug nutty.’ ”