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The following page details the elements that contribute to CTE including Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Concussions.  In both situations, keep in mind diagnosing a concussion is not like taking a test for blood pressure.  Signs of a concussion may not appear for days or weeks after the injury, and as we are learning, may show up even decades later.  Some symptoms only last for seconds or minutes, other may last a lifetime.

What is a concussion… how do you know if you experienced one?

A concussion is the most common form of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) can cause a wide range of functional short- or long-term changes affecting thinking, sensation, language, or emotions.

  • Thinking (i.e., memory and reasoning);
  • Sensation (i.e., touch, taste, and smell);
  • Language (i.e., communication, expression, and understanding); and
  • Emotion (i.e., depression, anxiety, personality changes, aggression, acting out, and social inappropriateness).

TBI can also cause epilepsy and increase the risk for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain disorders that become more prevalent with age.  Repeated mild TBIs occurring over an extended period of time (i.e., months, years) can result in cumulative neurological and cognitive deficits.  Repeated mild TBIs occurring within a short period of time (i.e., hours, days, or weeks) can be catastrophic or fatal.

Sub-concussive Brain Injury: Evidence is accumulating that sub-concussive impacts, or impacts that do not produce any clinical concussion symptoms, may still be damaging to the brain, both in the short- and long-term.  One study on high school football players found that players who received normal football brain trauma and did not report any concussion symptoms still had functional MRI changes that mimicked concussion players.

(Source: Sports Legacy Institute’s White Paper – Hit Count)

What are the symptoms of a Concussion or Traumatic Brain Injury?

  • confusion or feeling dazed
  • clumsiness
  • slurred speech
  • nausea or vomiting
  • headache
  • balance problems or dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • sensitivity to light
  • sensitivity to noise
  • sluggishness
  • ringing in ears
  • behavior or personality changes
  • concentration difficulties
  • memory loss

What are the Different Types of Concussions?

Concussions are graded as mild (grade 1), moderate (grade 2), or severe (grade 3):

  • GRADE 1: symptoms last for less than 15 minutes.  There is no loss of consciousness.
  • GRADE 2: there is no loss of consciousness but symptoms last longer than 15 minutes.
  • GRADE 3: the person loses consciousness, sometimes just for a few seconds.


What are the symptoms of CTE?

Symptoms may include: depression, memory loss, confusion, attention and concentration problems, headaches, dizziness, impaired judgment, paranoia, impulse control problems, aggression, and suicide.

There are three defined stages of CTE:

  • STAGE ONE: mental and emotional / psychotic disturbances
  • STAGE TWO: social instability, erratic behavior, memory loss and the initial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (shaking, small handwriting, loss of smell, trouble sleeping, dizziness or fainting)
  • STAGE THREE: progressive deterioration to Dementia, speech difficulties, gait abnormalities, speech disorder, difficulty swallowing, drooping eyelids.  (source)

Symptoms may not start until months, years or even DECADES after the last instance of brain trauma.  What that means is athletes who haven’t played contact sports in over 20 years may suddenly start showing signs of CTE.


Do you suspect CTE in yourself or a loved one?  Take our HEADS UP! CTE Survey and share the results and this page with a health care provider. Or, if you are looking for a list of providers who work with CTE/Sports Injuries, please check out our Resources page.


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