Transient Global Amnesia

What is Transient Global Amnesia?

Transient global amnesia is a condition in which a person experiences a sudden temporary incident of memory loss that cannot be explained by another neurological disorder like a stroke or epilepsy. It hinders the ability to recall recent events, leaving the person unaware of where they are or how they got there.

Additionally, they might not remember what is happening in the present moment. They could forget answers that were given to recent questions or be unable to recall events that occurred at a specific time.

This form of amnesia does not affect the ability to recognize familiar people or remember one’s own name. However, it does not make its occurrence any less unnerving. Fortunately, it is a rare condition that does not appear to cause any significant harm and is unlikely to recur. Transient global amnesia does not last very long, and memory returns to normal afterwards.

It is not known what causes these memory lapses, although there seems to be a connection with a history of migraines. Other factors that might trigger transient global amnesia include strenuous physical activity, medical procedures, acute emotional stress, sudden exposure to hot or cold water, and mild head trauma.

What are the Symptoms of Transient Global Amnesia?

The most prominent symptom of transient global amnesia is the inability to recall recent events and form new memories. From there, ruling out potential causes is necessary to make sure that there are no significant neurological issues at work.

This is determined by the patient’s level of personal identity retention, normal cognition, length of memory loss, how long it takes for memory to return, and the absence of seizures and other signs pointing to brain damage.

Transient Global Amnesia Causes

Science has yet to find a definite cause of transient global amnesia. However, although underlying causes of the condition remain unknown, certain experiences and events are commonly reported by patients as precedents or triggers to an episode of transient global amnesia.

Additionally, there are factors which may increase a person’s vulnerability to an episode of transient global amnesia – for example, if an individual is over 50, or if they have a history of migraines. While there may be a link between relatives suffering episodes of transient global amnesia, a connection has not been found. Transient global amnesia has rarely been reported as inherited; a common link between family members has not been found.

Potential triggers of an episode of transient global amnesia are numerous. Drinking too much alcohol and consuming large amounts of sedatives can induce a specific form of transient global amnesia. Rigorous physical activity, such as exercise or sexual intercourse, may also bring about an episode, as could certain medical procedures and mild head trauma. In some cases, psychological and emotional stress will trigger an episode.

If the episode is caused by an underlying medical condition, such as epilepsy, it is not classified as transient global amnesia.

How is Transient Global Amnesia Treated?

Transient global amnesia does not need treatment. There are no confirmed complications or after effects of the condition and it clears up on its own.

Transient Global Amnesia Prevention

Because of the fleeting, relatively mild, and little understood nature of the condition, there is no known method of prevention for transient global amnesia. Without a known cause, it is very difficult to prevent an episode.

Additionally, it is rare for an individual to suffer more than one episode of transient global amnesia in their lifetime. However, if a patient does notice a pattern – for example, an episode following strenuous physical activity – it is worth speaking with a neurologist to determine how to proceed, whether it is safe to continue engaging in a potential trigger, or whether the amnesia is a result of a serious medical condition.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 10, 2017
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