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:
or substance use disorders
- An illness that affects the brain, such as encephalitis
Complications from procedures such as:
- 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
Areas of the Brain Affected by Dementia
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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:
- A physical and neurological exam
- Blood tests to look for things like infections
Images of the brain may be taken to look for damage. This can be done with:
EEG to test the brain’s electrical activity
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.
Amnesia. Better Health Channel website. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/amnesia. Accessed September 4, 2020.
Amnesias. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/function-and-dysfunction-of-the-cerebral-lobes/amnesias. Accessed September 4, 2020.
Kirshner HS. Transient global amnesia: a brief review and update. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2011 Dec;11(6):578-582.
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: 2/19/2021