Amnesia is when a person cannot recall new information or past events. It may go away in a short time or be lasting.
Most memory problems are caused by damage to the brain. It may be due to an accident, an illness like a brain infection, stroke, or certain medicines. Sometimes the cause is not known.
Rarely, an emotional event can cause a problem called dissociative amnesia.
Things that may raise the risk are:
- Head and brain injuries, such as from a car accident
- Brain damage from problems like:
Complications from procedures such as:
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
- Brain surgery
- Dementia or Alzheimer disease
- Some medicines, such as those used as anesthesia
- Certain changes in the body, such as changes in blood glucose levels or a lack of oxygen
- Recent physical or emotional pain or trauma
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A person may have:
- Problems recalling new or past information
- False memories
You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. The doctor will ask about your memory loss and when it started. A loved one or family member may answer these questions if the person cannot.
These tests may be done to look for a cause:
Any cause will need to be treated. The problem may go away on its own. A therapist or support group may be needed for those whose amnesia does not go away.
There are no current guidelines to prevent this problem.
American Academy of Neurology
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Neurological Sciences Federation
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Memory loss (amnesia). NHS Choices website. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/memory-loss-amnesia. Accessed September 4, 2020.
Transient global amnesia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/transient-global-amnesia. Accessed September 4, 2020.
Transient global amnesia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/function-and-dysfunction-of-the-cerebral-lobes/transient-global-amnesia. Accessed September 4, 2020.
Treating amnesia. Brain & Life—American Academy of Neurology website. Available at: https://www.brainandlife.org/the-magazine/article/app/4/4/20. Accessed September 4, 2020.
Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD Last Updated: 9/4/2020