Doctors becoming more concerned about CTE for athletes

2:02 PM, Oct 8, 2013   |    comments
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RESTON, Va. (WUSA9) -- From Pop Warner leagues to the NFL, football is a huge part of our American culture.  In the past decade, head injuries have become a major concern among some players and coaches.

10 years ago, the NFL formed a commission to study concussions.  Authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru of a controversial new book called "League of Denial" claim NFL executives used their own study to diminish the connection of football and head injuries.

Zachary Litvack, M.D. of George Washington Medical Faculty Associates says, "People noticed that there was a stark contrast in the conclusions that were drawn from the NFL commission studies as opposed to a lot of the neuroscience studies on concussions that were coming out."

The book focuses on a condition that can develop as a result of constant hits to the head.  It is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE for short.  The condition can cause changes in personality, memory problems, and impulsiveness.  It can ultimately lead to suicidal thoughts.

Dr. Litvack says, "All the data that we have suggest that the injuries that lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy are not reversable, and that's what has a lot of people scared right now."

An NIH-funded study found former NFL start Junior Seau suffered from CTE.  Right now there is no way to tell who will eventually develop the condition.

"There is research going on in terms of better understanding the pathology in being able to identify people who are at risk so that we can say to players or parents of underage players 'look, this person is at risk and if we stop now we can stop this process,'" adds Litvack.

The NFL instituted fines for helmet-to-helmet hits and added medical staffs to the playing field who deal directly with head injuries.

Dr. Litvack suggests football players of all levels get tested by a physician after they have a concussion before the return to the field.