New study finds more cases of CTE in young athletes

Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 6:15 PM CDT
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JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. (KCTV) - It’s not just an NFL problem -- a new study from Boston University found that more young athletes are showing signs of CTE.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or CTE) is a permanent brain disease caused by repeated concussions and other brain injuries.

It can only be formally diagnosed with an autopsy – and unlike in the past, where professional players were the main subject – this new study looks at the impacts and risks of amateur athletes who play at youth, high school, and college levels.

“It really boils down to a lot of repetitive hits and repetitive injuries,” said Dr. Michael Rippee.

Dr. Rippee is a sports neurologist for the University of Kansas Health System. He said they are seeing more brain injuries at younger ages than they anticipated, and it’s raising questions.

“How many injuries are too many injuries or how many hits are too many hits?” he asked.

In the new report published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Neurology on Monday they looked at brains donated from 2008 through 2022. Sixty-three out of the 152 brains -- or 41 percent -- had autopsy-confirmed CTE.

“I think one of the important things that comes up about it is the length of time that some of these folks have been playing. Maybe we should think about how early we’re starting these kids in contact sports and that may be a way to lessen this burden,” said Rippee.

Rippee said several symptoms are associated with the brain disease.

“The symptoms we talk about are a lot of cognitive systems and a lot of behavioral symptoms, so depression, aggression, trouble with decision making,” he said.

Previous studies have shown that repetitive hits to the head, even without concussion, can result in CTE.

“It really comes down to reducing the amount of exposure whether it’s in practices where they don’t hit or limiting how early they can start hitting and changing some of the rules,” said Rippee.

Since a majority of the CTE samples previously looked at came from older adults, Rippee said looking at younger brains can provide an important perspective.

“It raises the awareness of looking at adolescents that are not at risk of head injury and being able to compare that data, so we have a better idea of how much CTE we’re really seeing within these folks,” he said.

Right now, there are no tests to check for CTE, which Rippee said is a struggle for clinicians, but he said something is certainly in development.