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Brain Disease from Contact Sports More Common, Study Concludes

On Monday, the National Football League (NFL) acknowledged, for the first time, that there is a link between football-related head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This admission came during a meeting with the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce when Jeff Miller, the NFL's senior vice president for health and safety, was asked if there was a link between football and neurodegenerative diseases like CTE. Miller responded "the answer to that question is certainly yes."

Miller based his conclusion on the work of Dr. Ann McKee. Dr. McKee, a neuropathologist, has diagnosed CTE in the brains of 176 people including those of 90 former NFL players.

On the midst of this admission, new research is suggesting that CTE may be more widespread than originally anticipated. The research, which has been published in the last year, includes a brain bank studies used to detect CTE in former high school players; scans that showed signs of CTE in retired NFL players; and models that replicate helmet to helmet contact suggesting that repetitive trauma can cause brain injuries. In addition, a consensus statement has been issued by twenty-four neuroscientists who state that CTE has "only been found in individuals who were exposed to brain trauma, typically multiple episodes."

The research not only suggests that there is a connection between multiple head traumas and CTE but also that CTE may be prevalent in people who have played contact sports. This is of a major concern to Dr. Walter Koroshetz, the Director for the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. In a recent interview Dr. Koroshetz said that the worry the CTE could impact people in the general population who have played contact sports "keeps him up at night." Dr. Koroshetz also stated that " At least at this early stage, [CTE] seems to much more common than anybody imagined. That's kind of what we've been afraid of for a while, and now we have data that it is more widespread. ... I think we have a significant problem that's getting bigger as we see how this pathology is more common."

Until Monday, the NFL had not acknowledged that football could lead to long-term brain disease.

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