Legendary NFL linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide in 2012, less than three years after his final game. An autopsy overseen by the National Institutes of Health revealed that he’d had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE—a degenerative brain disease that can result from hits to the head and might cause depression, aggression, memory loss, and dementia.
High-profile cases like Seau’s have raised public awareness of CTE in the NFL in recent years. And rather than a rarity, researchers are concerned the disease might be more widespread than previously believed. Boston University’s CTE Center has been analyzing the brains of deceased athletes and veterans since 2008; the condition has shown up in 175 of the 247 brains studied. Among deceased NFL players, it’s 88 of 92.
Currently, the disease can’t be treated. In fact, doctors can’t even diagnose it when a person is alive. CTE can be found only during autopsies. But that might be about to change.