Complex brain injuries may be difficult for doctors to diagnose

When a brain injury is not properly diagnosed, Illinois doctors and patients cannot take any actions to prevent long-term damage or other complications. Although some brain injuries are far more difficult to diagnose than others, physicians should at least be capable of knowing when it is time to refer a possible brain injury patient to a specialist for further assessments.

One of type of brain injury that is very difficult to diagnose is chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Currently, the illness can only be diagnosed after the death of a patient. For this reason, researchers and medical professionals have been focusing on ways to create tests or assessments that can detect the disease in living patients. Researchers are also attempting to find better methods for identifying symptoms of CTE.

Dementia pugilistica, another type of brain injury illness, was initially limited to boxers. In 1996, researchers studied the brain of a dwarf circus clown who developed this illness. Not quite 10 years after a publication of the study on the dwarf’s brain, an NFL Hall of Famer was found to have that same condition. Researchers now call the condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Following the Hall of Famer’s death, public interest and research showed that CTE is common in all contact sports, not just boxers. Because of several recent suicides and odd deaths by professional athletes in the U.S., more than 100 athletes have pledged to donate their brains so that scientists can study the effects of CTE and possibly learn how to diagnose it prior to death.

The most recent brain donation was made by NFL player Junior Seau, who committed suicide several weeks ago. It is thought that he may have been affected by CTE because of repeated blows to the head while playing football. CTE can show up years after sustaining multiple concussions, but it does not necessarily occur simply as a result of repeated concussions, researchers believe.

If doctors find a way to diagnose this disease prior to death, they could possibly be able to treat patients before the disease destroys their lives. At this point, doctors can only be aware that CTE is a life-threatening illness that could potentially be harming a patient. Doctors can diagnose a suspected CTE patient by asking the patient’s family members to report problems such as difficulty learning new information, aggressive behavior, depression and other personality changes in the patient.

Source: The Atlantic, “How to Diagnose a Battered Brain Before It’s Too Late,” Neal Emery, May 8, 2012

More:

Complex brain injuries may be difficult for doctors to diagnose