Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and Sleep Apnea
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), is a neurodegenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. CTE is also known as “punch-drunk syndrome.”
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is very common in sportspeople, such as hockey players, boxers, and footballers. Likewise, combat veterans and victims of domestic abuse that have experienced repeated head trauma have also been affected by CTE.
However, it is often the case that doctors overlook other treatable conditions that make the symptoms worse. One of the conditions that contribute to CTE is obstructive sleep apnea. Thus, it is crucial to have an early diagnosis and proper treatment.
There are several symptoms which are usually associated with CTE which include difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss, and emotional and behavioral changes, such as:
– Mood swings
– Suicidal thoughts
A Harvard study has shown that about 3% of formal footballers have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
When it comes to the causes of CTE, it has been determined that any prolonged activity that involves repeated blows to the head or recurrent episodes of concussion increases the risk.
However, it’s important to note that concussion and CTE are separate conditions. Therefore, not all people who are concussed develop CTE. There have been many pieces of evidence that suggest than the risk of CTE increases where there is a pattern of repeated minor head injuries.
The exact causes of CTE are still not clear, but there are groups of people who are at a higher risk, including athletes with a history of repetitive mild traumatic brain injury, such as:
– Military veterans with a history of repeated head trauma, such as blast injuries
– Boxers, martial artists, and American footballers due to repeatedly heading the ball
– People with a history of repeated head injuries
So, as soon as you notice memory issues or you notice that someone close to you has such symptoms, it’s advisable to see your doctor. Memory problems can be a result of depression, medications, stress, and other health conditions.
To diagnose CTE, doctors don’t have a special test for it at their disposal, but the condition is diagnosed based on the symptoms and the history of participating in contact sports. You might be asked to perform some simple mental or physical tasks, including moving or walking around. Patients are often referred to a specialist memory assessment services.
Note: CTE can only be accurately diagnosed postmortem.
A Sleep Disorder Behind Cognitive Impairment
People who have chronic traumatic encephalopathy are at higher risk of having heart disease, sleep apnea, stroke, hypertension, depression, obesity, and high cholesterol.
So, sleep apnea very commonly triggers cognitive symptoms similar to CTE symptoms. That’s why doctors must treat other conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
OSA might be responsible for the poor cognitive performance as about 22 million Americans are suffering from this condition. The bad news is that majority of people who have sleep apnea aren’t aware of it and their condition is untreated.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where the muscles in the back of the throat collapse. As a result, the soft tissue blocks the airway and prevents oxygen from getting to the lungs. The apneas, or the episodes of paused breathing, can happen up to 30 times per hour.
Some of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea are loud snoring, gasping for air during sleep, difficulty concentrating, dry mouth in the morning and a headache, forgetfulness, daytime sleepiness, and mood changes.
Patients with CTE may not notice that there is a connection between their health issues and poor sleep. What’s more, obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of other comorbidities, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Identifying Sleep Apnea Early in Athletes
Early diagnosis of sleep apnea among athletes can lead to easy and effective treatment, such as CPAP therapy.
Continuous positive airway pressure therapy minimizes long-term cognitive and physical health issues. On the other hand, if OSA is left untreated, it can cause many health issues.
One of the most convenient ways to diagnose sleep disorders is home sleep studies.