What is amnesia?


Know the basics

What is amnesia?

Amnesia, also known amnesic syndrome, is a condition that causes memory loss. This includes loss of information, facts, and personal experiences. There are many health conditions that can cause amnesia such as dementia, stroke or head injuries. Being a more severe form of memory loss, amnesia may impair the ability to produce more memories. Amnesia can be temporary but can also be a permanent condition. It is important to seek medical attention to treat the underlying cause of amnesia.

How common is amnesia?

Amnesia is a common condition that is usually a result from a more serious health condition such as head injury, stroke or dementia. There are also some risk factors that can make you more prone to amnesia. These risk factors may include alcohol abuse, seizures or brain surgery. Amnesia can affect both men and women but most often affects women.   

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of amnesia?

The main symptom of amnesia is memory loss or the inability to form new memories. Your cognitive skills as well as your motor skills are usually not affected. This means you will still remember to walk and speak the languages you are fluent. There many different types of amnesia that can include the following:

  • Retrograde amnesia.Retrograde amnesia occurs when you lose recently formed memories and childhood memories. The effect is usually gradual. There are health conditions can cause retrograde amnesia such as dementia.
  • Anterograde amnesia.Anterograde amnesia occurs when you can’t form new memories. The effect is usually temporary but can be permanent. Heavy alcohol consumption can cause you to blackout, leading to anterograde amnesia. Another possible cause is damage to your hippocampus, a part in your brain that plays an important role in forming memories.
  • Transient global amnesia.Transient global amnesia (TGA) occurs when you experience memory loss right before a traumatic experience, causing confusion and agitation. The cause is still not well understood. Some experts say a seizure-like activity or a temporary blockage of the blood vessels may be possible causes. Most often it can affect middle-aged to older adults.

Amnesia is different from dementia. Amnesia affects your memory loss but does not cause cognitive impairment. Which means you can still remember who you are as well as the year and time. Other symptoms may include false memories, confusion or disorientation.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

·      Experiencing unexplained memory loss, head injury, confusion or disorientation;

·      Finding yourself unable to recognize your location.

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Amnesia can be a sign of a more serious problem. It is important to seek medical attention immediately.

Know the causes

What causes amnesia?

Amnesia have many causes that can include a health condition or physical damage to the brain. There are also factors that can cause amnesia such as alcohol abuse and traumatic stress. Here are some possible causes of amnesia:

·      Stroke;

·      Encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain that may be caused by an infection such as herpes simplex virus;

·      Paraneoplastic limbic encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain caused by an autoimmune reaction to cancer;

·      Anoxia, which is the lack of adequate oxygen in the brain caused by conditions such as heart attack, respiratory distress or carbon monoxide poisoning;

·      Long-term alcohol abuse leading to vitamin B-1 deficiency (Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome).

·      Tumors in areas of the brain that control memory such as the hippocampus;

·      Degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia;

·      Seizures;

·      Certain medications, such as benzodiazepines that are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for amnesia?

There are many risk factors for amnesia, especially when you have experienced:

·      Brain surgery;

·      Head injury or trauma;

·      Stroke;

·      Alcohol abuse;

·      Traumatic and stressful event;

·      Seizures.

If you feel you may be at risk for amnesia, talk to your doctor to find ways to manage your risk.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is amnesia diagnosed?

To properly diagnose amnesia, your doctor will perform a series of test to rule out any possible causes for memory loss such Alzheimer’s disease, depression and brain tumor. These tests may include the following:

  • Review your medical history.This can include asking you questions to test the severity of your memory loss and possible triggers or contributing factors.
  • Physical exam.This is when your doctor will check your reflexes, sensory function, balance and other physiological responses to ensure the proper function of your brain and nervous system.
  • Cognitive tests.These tests will measure your thinking, judgement and recent vs. long-term memory. These tests can also help determine the severity of your memory loss.
  • Diagnostic tests.These tests may include both magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) to detect any damages or abnormalities in the brain.

A family member or friend should go with the patient when visiting the doctor. This will help the doctor get a better assessment when the patient is not able to answer all the necessary questions.

How is amnesia treated?

There is no specific treatment or drug for amnesia, but you can cope by:

  • Working with an occupational therapist to learn different techniques for memory training. Your therapist may use photographs, familiar smells and music to trigger your memories.
  • If you have Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, treatment usually includes vitamin replacement and proper nutrition. Wernicke-Kosakoff syndrome is caused by heavy alcohol use, leading to a lack of thiamine (vitamin B1).  You will also need to detox your body of all alcohol.
  • You can use certain apps on your computer, smart phone or tablet to remind you of important dates or to take your medications. It is usually helpful to list your day-to-day activities.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage amnesia?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with amnesia:

  • Write down any unusual symptoms that you are experiencing.
  • Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes you can recall. Ask family members or friends to help you, to ensure your list is complete.
  • List out all medications you are taking, including vitamins and supplements.
  • Ask a family member or friend to come to the doctor’s with you.
  • Bring a notepad and pen or pencil to jot down the points you want to be sure to remember later.
  • Write down questions that you want to ask your doctor.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

msBahasa Malaysia

Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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