Treatment for Head Injuries Related to Sports?

This is something of a follow-up to yesterday’s post, about the results of the autopsy of former pro-football player Junior Seau.  For those who didn’t see it, doctors have confirmed that Seau had suffered a number of brain injuries during his career, and speculated that this contributed to his suicide.  Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the particular kind of injury sustained as a result of concussions (or even less severe impacts to the brain), has been linked to memory problems, Parkinson-like motor symptoms, poor judgment, and behavioral problems.  Psychological problems such as depression, agitation, aggression, and suicide have also been noted.  Recently, there have been several deaths of professional athletes where the presence of CTE has been postulated.  However, now it appears that there may be some good news on this topic, with the possibility of a successful treatment being suggested.

The only way to confirm the presence of CTE is at autopsy.  In this way, doctors can examine the nature of the physical changes that have taken place (the shrinkage and atrophy of specific structures within the brain) and also microscopic changes such as the depositing of irregular proteins such as tau.  While a brain biopsy can be conducted on a living individual, this process is both painful and dangerous.  Often, the diagnosis of CTE in a living person usually is an educated guess at best, based on brain imaging and an analysis of behaviors, as well as medical history.

Yesterday, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar spoke out about his own struggle with the effects of brain injury, and about some treatments that he has been participating in — reportedly with very good results.  Kosar reported that his symptoms have included insomnia, slurred speech, and a ringing in his head.  He states that he does not feel he has experienced any problems with memory, and related that he has tried a number of different treatments in the past with little to no success.  (Kosar is known to have experienced at least a dozen concussions during his career.) Recently, he appeared on a Cleveland sports radio talk show, when his speech sounded slurred and he became overly emotional.  Some listeners presumed that Kosar was drunk at the time.

Kosar has attributed his improvement to the work of Dr. Rick Sponaugle.  Kosar underwent a PET scan, which showed that the majority of his brain damage is located in the frontal lobes, where emotions and speech are regulated.  He has received about 15 two-hour treatments at a facility near Tampa, Florida.  Treatments are designed to increase blood flow to the brain, as well as intravenous treatments and nutritional supplements.  Dr. Sponaugle states that he has worked with a number of former and current NFL players and war veterans, as well as persons with multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

I have looked at several news stories and commentaries related to Mr. Kosar’s revelations.  Some medical professionals and others have expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of Dr. Sponaugle’s treatments, while others have admitted that they may have some merit and should be studied further.  However, one of Kosar’s goals in coming out with this information, and one which I have to praise him for, is to raise awareness of the problem of CTE, and to advocate for further research into diagnosis and treatment.  Here is a living person who has come forward to pronounce that he has a disorder that usually is not diagnosed until after a person is dead.  He is encouraging others who think they may have a problem to be tested, and to seek help for their condition.  And it appears that he is getting some relief from his symptoms, whatever the reason.

Bravo, Mr. Kosar!  I hope you continue to find some personal relief.  I also hope others listen to your story and get help for themselves.

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