January 7th, 2013
04:51 PM ET
A marker for later cognitive problems may be starting to show up in the brain tissue of former National Football League players.
According to a study published Monday in JAMA Neurology, researchers found that cognitive problems and depression are more common among aging NFL players with a history of concussion. But brain damage and mood problems among some segments of the NFL population is not stunning news anymore.
What has got scientists slightly giddy are those markers: Poor performance on cognitive tests also showing up on sophisticated brain scans. It suggests that damage post-concussion could some day be detectable by scanning the brain.
May 16th, 2012
05:05 PM ET
If you survived a 43-inch-long iron rod shot through your skull, people would still be talking about you more than 150 years later too.
Journey back a moment to September 13, 1848. Phineas Gage, 25, was working as a railroad construction supervisor in Vermont. In preparation for the Rutland and Burlington Railroad that was to be laid down, he was blasting and removing rock. But an explosion went awry, shooting a 13-pound iron rod through Gage's left cheek, passing behind his left eyeball and through his brain.
The fateful rod was found later "smeared with blood and brains," according to reports about the case.
Gage survived for almost 12 years after this accident, but people who knew him said he was no longer himself - he exhibited personality and behavior changes.
He couldn't come back to his railroad job, so he took up some manual labor jobs. He ended up traveling in New England and down to Valparaiso, Chile; his iron rod never left his side. He rejoined his family in San Francisco and died on May 21, 1860, probably because of seizures connected to the freak accident.
Now, scientists have new insights into Gage's brain.
May 16th, 2012
04:01 PM ET
During a recent debate addressing whether the United States should ban college football, an argument against the sport was summed up this way: Schools should not be in the business of encouraging young men to hit themselves over the head.
The reasoning behind that argument (by New Yorker magazine staff writer Malcolm Gladwell): Concussions are not what afflicts football, rather it is the cumulative effects of punishing, comparatively subtle, subconcussive hits.
"There isn't a helmet in the world that can be designed to take the sting out of those hits," said Gladwell, at the Intelligence Squared Debate hosted by Slate Magazine in New York last week. "What's the effect of all that neurological trauma? We know it's a condition called CTE."
April 18th, 2012
04:15 PM ET
Years ago, a mysterious disease process – characterized by viscous tangles lodged in parts of the brain responsible for decision-making and mood – was an undefined phenomenon occurring among professional football players, and others exposed to repetitive brain trauma.
What scientists could piece together: Something in the brain was causing profound memory problems, and self-destructive, even suicidal, behavior among them. Since then, posthumous brain studies have shed light on that something - Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE – but little is known about when or how CTE begins.
However, data from the first year of a longitudinal study, called the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study, released Wednesday, suggests a possible starting point for problems with cognition and memory - both hallmarks of CTE. FULL POST
April 13th, 2012
02:15 PM ET
Alex Karras, the former Detroit Lions standout who starred in the 1980s sitcom “Webster” - and whose wife says is now suffering from dementia - has joined fellow ex-NFL players suing the league over concussion-related injuries.
Karras, who also played the horse-punching Mongo in the 1974 movie “Blazing Saddles," is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Philadelphia on behalf of him and 69 other former NFL players.
Karras, 76, of California, “sustained repetitive traumatic impacts to his head and/or concussions on multiple occasions” during his NFL career, and “suffers from various neurological conditions and symptoms related to the multiple head traumas,” the lawsuit says.
February 10th, 2012
04:23 PM ET
Editor's note: Dr. Charles Raison, CNNhealth's mental health expert, is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Between kids banging their heads in sports and soldiers banging their heads in battle, traumatic brain injury (TBI) gets a lot of press these days.
Sadly, TBI is very common, occurring in 1.7 million people annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition ranges in severity from mild concussions with no long-term consequences to severe brain damage leading to coma and/or death.
Now Hollywood is entering the national discussion about TBI with “The Vow," a movie inspired by real events that tells how a tragic case of TBI nearly destroyed the love between a married couple.
February 3rd, 2012
05:18 PM ET
The adolescent football player's brain is rattled an average of 650 times per season. That's just an average. There are positions on the football field where the numbers approach 1,000 hits to the head. And while a small fraction of those hits actually lead to a diagnosable concussion, the concern is that sub-concussive damage - the menacing smaller blows that add up during practices and games - could be as bad, or worse, for the brain.
With those sobering stats in mind, the Sports Legacy Institute Friday called for the adoption of a "Hit Count" - similar to the "Pitch Count" system used in baseball - for youth athletes participating in contact sports.
January 26th, 2012
09:18 AM ET
Watch "Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports: Big Hits, Broken Dreams" Sunday, January 29 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET.
One day late in the summer of 2010, I was sitting in my backyard with my oldest daughter. We had just finished cutting the lawn when my neighbor and his oldest son stopped by.
His son, a football player at one of the powerhouse local high schools, had grown nearly an inch over the summer and weighed more than 200 pounds. He was already in practice for the upcoming season. He asked if I had time to speak to a friend of his who also played football and had suffered a concussion the previous season.
They were asking me in my capacity as a neurosurgeon, but also in desperation, as this young man was still having tremendous difficulty nearly a year after his injury.
January 23rd, 2012
12:03 AM ET
Children who have severe traumatic brain injuries early in life may have impaired cognitive development and long-term intellectual ability as they get older, according to two small studies published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
The first study compared the social, intellectual, and behavioral functions of 53 children who had experienced a traumatic brain injury before the age of three, most of which were the result of falls, with 27 children of the same age who had never sustained a TBI.
The authors write that while a severe TBI was associated with lowered intellectual function, the socioeconomic status of the child's family may be a more powerful predictor of the child's intellectual development. They cannot fully explain why, but they suggest lower socioeconomic status, high parental stress and low parental involvement has an effect on a child's recovery.
January 17th, 2012
10:00 AM ET
Professional football players already vulnerable to memory loss and cognitive problems stemming from repetitive head injuries may be at even greater risk if they also carry excess weight, as many of them do.
In a small new study of retired NFL players, researchers found that overweight players had less blood flow to key areas of the brain and lower scores on mental-function tests than former players of normal weight.
"There was a very significant relationship: As their weight went up, their reasoning scores and memory and attention scores went down," says the senior study author, Daniel G. Amen, M.D., founder and medical director of Amen Clinics, a neuropsychiatry clinic and research center based in Newport Beach, California.
About this blog
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.