C.T.E. (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is a progressive degenerative disease which is linked to combat and other contact sports such as hockey and football. When an athlete experiences too many concussive or sub concussive shots over the course of a career they are at risk of developing CTE which can have profound consequences later in life.
So how much contact is too much? This is the vital yet presently unanswerable question. The troubling aspect is that symptoms of CTE often don't set in for decades making it difficult for an athlete to gauge whether they are exposing their brain to too much trauma. There is no known cure for CTE so it is problematic to only learn of the damage after the point of no return. Presently the only known way of diagnosing the condition is by studying brain tissue after death.
There appears to be some medical progress, however, giving hope that earlier diagnosis may be possible. Earlier this year The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry published findings indicating that through PET Scans it may be possible to diagnose CTE prior to death. The New York Times recently published a thorough article addressing this study which is worth reading for better understanding of this topic.
If you want the Cliff's Notes version the bottom line is further research is needed but there is some promise of earlier diagnosis of CTE. It will take years before there is any certainty to the possibility of earlier diagnosis and there is no indication whether the condition will be able to be diagnosed before the point of no return. All combat athletes should know that there is no good guage on when you have exposed yourself to one hit too many. If you choose to compete in combat sports it is vital to take precautions minimizing how much head trauma you expose yourself to over a career.
For more on participant safety you can click here to access my archived posts discussing other safety studies related to MMA and other combat sports.