What is Transient Global Amnesia?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2019
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Transient global amnesia is an unusual condition resulting in sudden memory loss. The loss is not total and it is fortunately of short duration. Yet during the time it occurs it can prove very frightening for the person affected.

There are other neurological conditions that can cause memory impairment, and these include things like stroke. Some people may suffer memory loss after a seizure. Transient global amnesia is distinct from these and is not caused by them. Some forms of trauma or physical activity might cause this condition and include medical procedures like catheterization, physical horseplay, sexual activity, or very bad and traumatic news. Moreover, those who get migraine headaches seem predisposed to this form of amnesia, and there are some theories that pressure on the large veins in the back of the head might make this condition emerge.

The symptoms of transient global amnesia include the fact that a person has no idea what they were previously doing or where they are. They would recognize family members, but the usually the last day or two of memories simply wouldn’t exist, which can seem extremely disorienting. Symptoms would not impair movement or speaking, and the person would not have had a seizure, head injury, or a stroke. Confusion results from loss of memories alone, and the person would certainly be able to identify him or herself.


The good part about transient global amnesia is that it does resolve, and most people are recovered completely within a day of initial memory loss. However, the period of time during which memory loss occurred isn’t remembered. During the memory loss episode, there are physical symptoms that can be present too, though this is variable. Some people are panicked and have sweats, racing heartbeat, or stomach upset, while others report a headache. If physical symptoms aren’t reported at time of memory loss they may never be, since the person who has the episode is not likely to remember them.

Even though people with transient global amnesia usually recover fully and without incident, this condition still requires emergency medical care. Sudden loss of memory could easily be from a stroke or seizure, or from other conditions like brain tumors or head injury. Those with this condition should not drive to the hospital. Instead, someone should call emergency services so the person can be transported safely.

Usually looking at symptoms and absence of certain symptoms helps a doctor make the diagnosis of transient global amnesia. Doctors may also want to do some scans like an electroencephalogram (EEG) and either a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). When no other problems are found and the memory loss clears, doctors may confirm diagnosis of this condition.



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