Study raises concerns about CTE diagnoses among former NFL players

A survey of nearly 4,000 former NFL players indicates that some former players have received a diagnosis ofchronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, despite the fact that the gold standard for diagnosing the disease is a postmortem exam of the brain, according to new research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School.

The study, published April 13, 2020, in the Annals of Neurology, found that nearly 3% of survey respondents had received a diagnosis of CTE from a physician or another clinician. The findings raise concerns for numerous reasons, the researchers said, including that a clinically unverifiable diagnosis of CTE could obscure the role of other treatable conditions common among former football players. The researchers also said that delivering a diagnosis of CTE, an untreatable disease, could render some people hopeless.

“Former football players are rightfully worried about brain health and CTE concerns should not be overlooked, yet in the absence of validated clinical criteria and diagnostic methods for CTE, the fact that former players report being told they have the disease is highly concerning,” lead author Rachel Grashow said in an April 22 Harvard Medical School news release.

Grashow, a research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School, added, “A diagnosis of CTE could downplay the effects of other conditions and discourage the pursuit of alternative explanations, while creating a sense of despair among those who believe they might have an untreatable brain condition.”

Read the Harvard Medical School release: Inappropriate Diagnoses: A survey of former NFL players raises questions about diagnoses of degenerative brain disease