THURSDAY, Jan. 10 (HealthDay News) -- When former National Football League star linebacker Junior Seau killed himself last year, he had a catastrophic brain disorder probably brought on by repeated hits to the head, the U.S. National Institutes of Health has concluded.
The NIH scientists who studied Seau's brain determined that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). They told the Associated Press on Thursday that the cellular changes they saw were similar to those found in autopsies of people "with exposure to repetitive head injuries."
The disorder -- characterized by impulsivity, depression and erratic behavior -- is only diagnosed after death.
Seau, 43, who played pro football for 20 seasons before his retirement in 2009, shot himself in the chest last May. His family donated his brain for research.
Some experts suspect -- but can't prove -- that CTE led to Seau's suicide.
"Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is the thing we have typically seen in a lot of the athletes," said Dr. Howard Derman, director at the Methodist Concussion Center in Houston.
"Rather than say 'this caused this,' I think the observation is that there have been multiple [pro football] players now who have committed suicide: Dave Duerson, Andre Waters, John Grimsley -- although Grimsley was just reported as a gun accident," Derman said.
Some argue that these players became depressed once they were out of the limelight or because of marital or financial difficulties, but Derman thinks the evidence goes beyond that.
"Yes, all that may be going on ... but it still remains that the majority of these players who have committed suicide do have changes of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. We feel that that is also playing a role in their mental state."
But, Derman cautioned, "I can't say that chronic traumatic encephalopathy causes players to commit
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