Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a brain condition thought to be linked to repeated head injuries and blows to the head. It slowly gets worse over time and leads to dementia, but the right help and support can manage the symptoms.
Check if you have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
Early symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy may not be noticeable at first.
They may include:
- mood changes, such as depression or suicidal thoughts
- personality changes
- behaviour changes, such as aggression and mood swings
As the condition gets worse, you'll have more noticeable problems with thinking and memory.
- short-term memory loss
- confusion, such as getting lost or not knowing what time of day it is
- difficulties with planning and organisation
- problems with movement
Symptoms usually start gradually, often around 10 years after having repeated head injuries.
The symptoms may get worse gradually or stay the same for years before getting worse.
These symptoms can be caused by many different conditions. Having them does not definitely mean you have CTE. But it's important to get them checked by a GP.
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- you have symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
What happens at your GP appointment
If you have symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a GP will ask you about your symptoms and if you've played a lot of contact sports in the past or have had several head injuries or concussions.
They may also:
- ask you to do simple tasks such as moving or walking around
- do tests to check your memory and thinking
- arrange blood or urine tests to check for other conditions that could be causing your symptoms
You may be referred to a specialist at a memory assessment service. These clinics help diagnose and care for people with dementia.
But you may not be formally diagnosed with CTE as this can only be done once you've died.
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Causes of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
If you've had repeated blows to the head or concussions over many years, you may have a higher chance of getting chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
You're most at risk if you:
- regularly played contact sports, such as boxing, martial arts, football, rugby and American football
- served in the military and have had blast injuries
- have been physically assaulted often, such as from domestic violence
Anyone who's had repeated head injuries is at risk, but not everyone will get it.
It's thought the only way to lower your risk of getting CTE is to avoid repeated head injuries.
For example, you can do this by wearing the correct protective equipment for any sports you play and making sure head injuries are treated properly.
Treatments for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) cannot be cured, but medicines and other treatments can help your symptoms.
If it's thought you have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the support you'll have is similar to the help given to people with dementia.
- physiotherapy if you have difficulties with movement
- occupational therapy for help with things like getting dressed or adapting your home to your needs
- speech and language therapy for help with things like memory, speech, and difficulty eating and drinking
You'll be seen by a group of specialists, including a GP, a dementia care specialist and social care services.
The specialists involved in your care will work together to give you a care plan for your long-term care.
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Page last reviewed: 29 December 2022
Next review due: 29 December 2025