Anyone who experiences sudden loss of memory for all events leading up to the present needs emergency medical care. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
If a friend or family member develops these symptoms in your presence, go with him or her to the hospital. Because he or she doesn't remember recent events, you'll need to provide important information to the doctor.
What you can do
- Stay with the person through the full medical evaluation. Sudden memory loss may indicate a serious health problem. Take an active role in noting all the information the doctor provides and in helping to make decisions about next steps.
- Share with medical staff physically or emotionally stressful events that preceded the memory loss. Important details include conflict or anxiety at work or at home, strenuous physical activity, sudden immersion in hot or cold water — anything that may have caused the person alarm or strain.
- Note any accompanying signs or symptoms, such as numbness, weakness or trembling.
- Relay key medical information, including any other conditions with which the person has been diagnosed. Also include all medications he or she is taking.
- Write down questions to ask the doctor.
Prepare a list of questions to ask the doctor on the person's behalf. Although people experiencing transient global amnesia can think and speak, it's likely that they will be feeling severe distress. For transient global amnesia, some basic questions include:
- What is most likely causing the symptoms?
- What are the other possible causes for these symptoms?
- What kinds of tests do you recommend?
- Is any treatment needed now?
- What signs or symptoms should I be watching for at home?
- What signs or symptoms should prompt calling 911 or emergency medical help?
- How soon do you expect the symptoms to improve?
- Do you expect a full recovery?
- Are there any steps to take to prevent a recurrence of this problem?
- What is the risk of long-term complications from this condition?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions as they occur to you during the appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
The doctor is likely to ask both you and the person experiencing amnesia a number of questions about symptoms and about the period leading up to the memory loss.
The doctor may ask your loved one:
- What is the last thing you remember?
- Do you know who you are?
- Do you know the person who came with you?
- Do you have any symptoms other than memory loss?
- Are you dizzy?
- Are you having problems with balance or coordination?
- Do you feel weakness or numbness on either side of your body?
- Are you having any vision problems?
- Do your symptoms include headache?
To determine the extent of memory loss, the doctor may check your loved one's knowledge of general information — such as the name of the current president — and assess his or her ability to recall a random list of words.
The doctor may ask you:
July 18, 2014
- When did the person's memory loss begin?
- Did the memory loss come on gradually or suddenly?
- Has anything like this ever happened before?
- What happened just before the memory loss?
- Did the person experience an accident that may have injured his or her head?
- Has the person recently experienced significant stress, conflict or loss?
- Has he or she had a seizure since symptoms began?
- Has the person been diagnosed with any other medical conditions?
- Does he or she have a history of migraines?
- Has the person recently undergone any medical procedures or surgery?
- What medications is he or she taking, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, herbs and supplements?
- Kremen S, et al. Transient global amnesia. http://www.uptodate.com. Accessed May 13, 2014.
- Ropper AH, et al. Adams and Victor's Principles of Neurology. 9th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies;2009. http://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=354§ionid=40236331&jumpsectionID=40239659&Resultclick=2. Accessed May 13, 2014.
- Bartsch T. Transient amnesic syndromes. Nature Reviews Neurology. 2013;9:86.
- Transient global amnesia. The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic_disorders/function_and_dysfunction_of_the_cerebral_lobes/transient_global_amnesia.html?qt=transient global amnesia&alt=sh. Accessed May 13, 2014.
- Daroff RB, et al. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier. 2012. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 14, 2014.
- Lin KH, et al. Migraine is associated with a higher risk of transient global amnesia: A nationwide cohort study. European Journal of Neurology. 2014;21:718.
- Szabo K. Transient global amnesia. Frontiers in Neurology and Neuroscience. 2014;34:143.
- Petersen RC (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 20, 2014.