Question

I've been hearing a lot about the long-term effects of football head injuries. I played a lot of football when I was younger. Should I be checked out?

Answer

If you have no symptoms, such as headaches, personality changes, or memory loss, then there is no need for a brain scan of any kind. You can, however, be on the lookout for signs of thinking problems that may be related to your playing days. Symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—brain deterioration caused by repeated head traumas—include aggression and impulsive behavior, short-term memory loss, difficulty concentrating, emotional instability, speech and language problems, and difficulty walking or other motor impairment.

There is much to be learned about CTE and other football-related brain injuries. There is no set timetable for when symptoms may appear or how severe they will be if they do develop. If you do start to develop frequent headaches or personality changes, or have other such symptoms, report them to your doctor and share your history of football and other instances when head trauma may have occurred.

-Maurizio Fava, MD, is the director of the Division of Clinical Research at the Mass General Research Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of Mind, Mood, Memory, a publication of the Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Fava hosts a column where he answers readers' questions related to brain health.


This article originally appeared in Mind, Mood & Memory, a publication of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, dedicated to maintaining mental fitness for middle age and beyond.

Subscribe to Mind, Mood & Memory