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Researchers Link Heading In Soccer to Degenerative Brain Disease

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Researchers have linked soccer and brain disease. They say a move that many kids do on the field could contribute to lasting injuries.

CTE is a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head. Typically, it's been found in football players and boxers, but now a soccer player has become the first in his sport to be publicly named with the disease.

Even more frightening, the condition can't be diagnosed until after the person has died, CBS 2's Alice gainer reported Friday.

Heading the ball is a big part of the game of soccer.

But it can be jarring, even deadly.

"Once you get it over a short period of time, few years, you're in big trouble … depressed confused … and then you die," said Dr. Mark Green, a neurologist at Mount Sinai Hospital.

He's talking about CTE.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a dementing and disorder causing depression that follows repeated head trauma, Green said.

Green said he sees a lot of football players come through his department at Mount Sinai, but now there's word that a soccer player had the disease.

Patrick Grange died in 2012 at the age of 29. He reportedly had ALS. Researchers at Boston University tested his brain and say he had extensive frontal lobe damage and a build-up of a protein linked to CTE, Gainer reported.

"Unfortunately, it's only diagnosed based on pathology, so only post mortem can it be diagnosed," Green said. "People who have had terrible CTE … their MRIs were fine and you wouldn't suspect it based on the scan. They don't help us at all."

So what are the symptoms if at all?

"It's insidious. People develop problems in their mood. They become increasingly depressed and confused and they're often young people who may think they have Alzheimer's disease," Green said.

Green said he's not all that surprised that a soccer player could suffer the same fate as those who box or play football.

"No, it's not shocking. In fact, there was a case a while ago of a cheerleader who developed this and people on trampolines have developed it. So people with repeated jarring movements to the head are at risk of developing it. It doesn't have to be that traumatic," Green said.

"Although it's relatively rare it occurs and it can't be stopped once it occurs," he added.

Green said even if it is diagnosed, there's nothing that can be done, so the key is prevention. One example would be asking kids to head the ball less while playing.

Grange's parents have spoken out, saying their son had several concussions as well as stitches in his head.

Researchers at Boston University aren't saying that heading the ball definitely caused his CTE, but it's worth noting he was known for doing the move in the game.

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