Read below about amnesia, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your amnesia from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Difficulty remembering
Memory lapses

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Amnesia Symptoms

You woke up earlier than usual. Today is a big day. You're rushing out the door to an important meeting when suddenly, you feel like you're forgetting something. No matter how hard you try, you just can't remember what it was. Sound familiar? Our memories all go fuzzy from time to time, but when you start to forget more and remember less, amnesia is a possible diagnosis.

There are several kinds of amnesia, all with different causes. The disease does not present itself in the same manner every time. It could either be temporary or permanent and patients may experience partial or total memory loss. Some have trouble remembering the past (retrograde amnesia) [10] while others can't retain new information (anterograde amnesia) [11].

Amnesia symptoms depend on its type and cause, but may include the following:

  • Memory loss
  • Forgetfulness
  • Confusion
  • Not being able to recognize faces and places
  • Inability to process and store new information or memories
  • Generation of false memories
  • After recovery, patients have no memory of their amnesia episode

If being forgetful happens more often than expected, it's time to seek medical help to rule out a serious underlying medical condition. If your episodes are infrequent, there are available treatments and preventative measures you can take to manage amnesia symptoms [12].

Amnesia Causes Overview

Causes of amnesia can normally be broken down into three main groups -- brain related causes, lifestyle causes, and medical conditions.

Brain-related amnesia causes:

  • Brain Damage: Damage to the brain, especially on the hippocampus [1], due to an injury can affect memory. This part of the brain can likewise be compromised if there is a lack of oxygen for a prolonged amount of time.
  • Stress or Trauma: Whether you experience a physical trauma, injury, or witness a stressful situation, amnesia can set in. This is why some people in car accidents never remember the ordeal [2].

Lifestyle amnesia causes:

  • Alcohol: Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can cause amnesia.
  • Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Amnesia can be due to pernicious anemia or lack of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy nerve cells, thus a decrease in its level can cause amnesia [3].

Medical conditions:

  • Hypothyroidism: A less active thyroid gland is said to cause forgetfulness and other memory issues [4].
  • Medications: Common medications given to patients for surgery, like anesthesia, are believed to cause amnesia. Benzodiazepines are also linked to amnesia.

Remember that amnesia is a very broad condition. A few episodes of it could be normal but if it progresses, you should have yourself checked as soon as possible. Try to ask a family member or a friend to record your episodes of forgetfulness. Share this data with your physician. One form of amnesia can be very scary for the person who has no memory of their identity or their surroundings and he or she will need family and friends' support until the temporary illness improves. This is known as transient global amnesia [5], and has no known cause or cure, but usually resolves within hours. It is important to seek immediate medical attention to rule our more serious causes of global amnesia such as stroke or seizures.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Amnesia

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced amnesia. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Traumatic Brain Injury

    Traumatic brain injury (TBI) happens when a bump, blow, jolt, or other head injury causes damage to the brain.

    Varies depending on severity

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, irritability, clear runny nose, vision changes, general numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with traumatic brain injury:
    head injury
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  2. 2.Acute Stress Disorder

    Acute stress disorder describes changes in one's mood or memory for less than a month following an emotional or traumatic event.

    Acute stress disorder generally lasts days to 1 month.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating
    Symptoms that always occur with acute stress disorder:
    impaired social or occupational functioning
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Alzheimer's Disease

    Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurological disorder that slowly destroys memory and the ability to think clearly. As symptoms worsen, patients are often unable to perform basic tasks.

    Lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    trouble sleeping, forgetfulness, anxiety, aggression or confusion, anxiety, irritability, depressed mood
    Symptoms that always occur with alzheimer's disease:
    forgetfulness, anxiety, aggression or confusion
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  4. 4.Dissociative Amnesia

    Dissociative amnesia occurs when someone blocks out the memories of a stressful or scary/traumatic event. The memory isn't lost, rather, it's subconsciously buried and can resurface with a trigger.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    amnesia, awareness of loss of memory, loss and then regaining of memory, loss of memory about specific things
    Symptoms that never occur with dissociative amnesia:
    loss of memory of recent events
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Wernicke - Korsakoff Syndrome

    Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a condition that affects the brain due to low vitamin B1 levels. Symptoms can be loss of balance, drowsiness, staggering and confusion. If it persists this can result in memory loss.

    Although this is a chronic condition, treatment can prevent it from worsening.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea or vomiting, leg numbness, feeling confused and not making sense while talking, amnesia, jerky, unsteady, or uncoordinated walk
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  6. 6.Depersonalization / Derealization Identity Disorder

    Depersonalization/Derealization Identity Disorder is when a person experiences unreality or detachment from one's mind, self or body or from one's surroundings.

    Progression is variable and highly personal.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    depersonalization or derealization, derealization, impaired social or occupational functioning, ringing in the ears, amnesia
    Symptoms that always occur with depersonalization/derealization identity disorder:
    depersonalization or derealization
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Viral Encephalitis

    Encephalitis is irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the brain, most often due to viral infections. Encephalitis caused by the herpes simplex virus is the leading cause. Several other causes of encephalitis (St. Louis, California, Japanese and Eastern Equine encephalitis infections) are transmitted by bites from an infected mosquito.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, being severely ill, loss of appetite, new headache, vomiting
    Symptoms that always occur with viral encephalitis:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

Amnesia Treatments and Relief

Not sure if you're just a bit forgetful or if you might be developing amnesia?

If any of the following resonate with your current condition, seek medical attention.

  • Amnesia symptoms after a head injury
  • Severe confusion or disorientation
  • Patient unable to recognize close friends and family members
  • Patient unable to identify themselves
  • Patient unaware of current date or events

Treatment of amnesia depends on the underlying causes.

The following treatments and preventative measures are currently used in the fight against amnesia symptoms.

  • Detoxification: Alcohol induced amnesia can be treated through detoxification. Once alcohol is eliminated in the body, memory issues should subside [13].
  • Meditation: This calming practice can help the nervous system function properly [14].
  • Sleep Schedule: Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, making sure you get an adequate eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Occupational Therapy: This treatment is suitable for persistent amnesia symptoms. It helps patients learn new things and adjust to a new living style [15].

Note -- Amnesia caused by traumas normally subside over time and without medical intervention. However, in cases of severe injuries, amnesia may be permanent.

Preventive measures:

  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Wear protective gear when suggested.
  • Stay mentally and physically active.
  • Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated.

We may all experience a bit of forgetfulness here and there. But knowing when memory loss isn't just a funny quirk and when it's a serious sign can ideally prevent amnesia from progressing too quickly.

FAQs About Amnesia

Here are some frequently asked questions about amnesia.

What causes amnesia?

Amnesia caused by many conditions, as memory is a very complex physical process. Generally speaking, amnesia can be caused by lack of blood flow to the brain, which often causes fainting, epileptic seizures which stop the brain from "recording," or psychological disorders in which memories are repressed [6]. It may occur following trauma to a particular area of the brain as well.

Can amnesia be caused by stress?

Psychogenic disorders can cause amnesia. Essentially, a psychogenic disorder is a disorder that is caused by a mental manifestation of stress. Psychogenic symptoms are true experiences — they are authentic and often out of the control of the individual experiencing them — but they do not have a clear physical cause. Extreme stress can cause psychogenic amnesia [7]. Common examples of other maladies caused by stress include children that cease talking after a significant trauma.

Can amnesia be reversed?

Yes, amnesia can be reversed depending on the underlying diagnosis. In many cases, memory will return spontaneously following a mild concussion or drug-induced memory loss. Other common causes of reversible memory loss include arterial ischemia (or blockage of an artery), venous congestion (inadequate flow through veins), migraines, and epileptic seizures [8]. However, memory loss from dementia is usually irreversible.

What part of the brain is affected by amnesia?

Memory is a complex process, and different types of amnesia originate in different places. The mediobasal temporal lobe and the hippocampus are the most frequently associated structures in relation to amnesia. The hippocampus is primarily the part of the brain that stores memories, though these memories can be stored throughout the higher cortices of the brain (the frontal lobes). We have a hippocampus on both sides of the brain and loss of either will cause memory loss.

How long does amnesia last?

Amnesia may resolve in less than 24 hours or may persist for a lifetime depending on the cause. Temporary and short-lived loss of blood flow, limited epileptic seizures, and psychogenic amnesia tend to be temporary. However, permanent injury to the brain tends to cause amnesia to exist longer or be permanent. If you are suffering from amnesia, the diagnosis and reason why you have amnesia is the most pertinent factor in determining how long the symptoms will last. If the structures that hold memories were permanently shut down, it may be temporary, if they were destroyed, however, it can be much more difficult to develop new memories [9].

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Amnesia

  • Q.Are you having any difficulty walking?
  • Q.Are your symptoms causing difficulty at work, socializing, or spending time with friends & family?
  • Q.Do you feel detached or outside of your own body?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our amnesia symptom checker to find out more.

Amnesia Quiz

Amnesia Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced amnesia have also experienced:

    • 8% Fatigue
    • 5% Headache
    • 4% Difficulty Concentrating
  • People who have experienced amnesia had symptoms persist for:

    • 72% Over a Month
    • 11% Less Than a Day
    • 5% Less Than a Week
  • People who have experienced amnesia were most often matched with:

    • 53% Traumatic Brain Injury
    • 23% Acute Stress Disorder
    • 23% Alzheimer's Disease
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Hippocampus. Wikipedia. Published August 15, 2018. Wikipedia Link.
  2. Dissociative Amnesia. Psychology Today. Published June, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/dissociative-amnesia
  3. Vitamin B12. National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. Published June 24, 2011. ODS Link.
  4. The lowdown on Thyroid Slowdown. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publising. Published March, 2014. Harvard Health Publishing.
  5. Transient Global Amnesia. National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Published December, 2017. NIH Link.
  6. Janyna MM, Robin H. Untreated hypertension can lead to memory loss by cutting down on blood flow to the brain. Neurology. Published Apr 2005. Neurology Link.
  7. Amnesia. Wikipedia. Updated Sept, 2018. Wikipedia Link.
  8. Epileptic Seizure. Wikipedia. Updated Sept, 2018. Wikipedia Link.
  9. Post-Traumatic Amnesia. Wikipedia. Published August 10, 2018. Wikipedia Link.
  10. Retrograde Amnesia. Elsevier: ScienceDirect. ScienceDirect Link.
  11. Anterograde Amnesia. Elsevier: ScienceDirect. ScienceDirect Link.
  12. Amnesia. Department of Health & Human Services: Better Health Channel. Published August 2014. Better Health Channel Link.
  13. Pappas S. Alcoholics' Brains Recover Quickly After Detox. Live Science. Published October 16, 2012. Live Science Link.
  14. Wanucha G. Mindfulness as Medicine. UW Medicine: Memory & Brain Wellness Center. Published February 19, 2016. MBWC Link.
  15. Nott MT, Chapparo C, Heard R. Effective Occupational Therapy Intervention with Adults Demonstrating Agitation During Post-Traumatic Amnesia. Brain Injury. 2008;22(9):669-683. Pubmed Link.