To diagnose transient global amnesia, your health care provider must first rule out more-serious conditions. This can include stroke, seizure or head injury, for example. These conditions can cause the same type of memory loss.

Physical exam

This begins with a neurological exam, checking reflexes, muscle tone, muscle strength, sensory function, gait, posture, coordination and balance. The doctor may also ask questions to test thinking, judgment and memory.

Brain and imaging tests

The next step is testing to look for abnormalities in the brain's electrical activity and blood flow. Your health care provider might order one or a combination of these tests:

  • Computerized tomography (CT). Using special X-ray equipment, your doctor obtains images from many different angles and joins them together to show cross-sectional images of the brain and skull. computed tomography (CT) scans can reveal abnormalities in brain structure, including narrowed, overstretched or broken blood vessels and past strokes.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This technique uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed, cross-sectional images of the brain. The Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine can combine these slices to produce 3D images that may be viewed from many different angles. An MRI may not be needed if you had a CT scan at the time of the episode, and the CT didn't show any problems in the brain.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG). An electroencephalogram (EEG) records the brain's electrical activity via electrodes attached to the scalp. People with epilepsy often have changes in their brain waves, even when they're not having a seizure. This test is usually ordered if you've had more than one episode of transient global amnesia or if your doctor suspects that you're having seizures.


No treatment is needed for transient global amnesia. It gets better without treatment and has no known lasting effects.

Preparing for your appointment

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, or 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:

  • 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 they experience an accident that may have injured their head?
  • Have they recently experienced significant stress, conflict or loss?
  • Have they had a seizure since symptoms began?
  • Have they been diagnosed with any other medical conditions?
  • Do they have a history of migraines?
  • Have they recently undergone any medical procedures or surgery?
  • What medications are they taking, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, herbs and supplements?

Aug 10, 2022

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  2. Ropper AH, et al. Dementia, the amnesic syndrome, and the neurology of intelligence and memory. In: Adams & Victor's Principles of Neurology. 11th ed. McGraw Hill; 2019. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed June 27, 2022.
  3. Spiegel DR, et al. Transient global amnesia: Current perspectives. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2017; doi: 10.2147/NDT.S130710
  4. Transient global amnesia. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/function-and-dysfunction-of-the-cerebral-lobes/transient-global-amnesia. Accessed June 27, 2022.
  5. Jankovic J, et al., eds. Intellectual and memory impairments. In: Bradley and Daroff's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Elsevier; 2022. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed June 27, 2022.
  6. Knopman DS (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. June 29, 2022.
  7. Arena JE, et al. Transient global amnesia. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2015: doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.12.001.
  8. Transient global amnesia. Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/8172/transient-global-amnesia. Accessed June 27, 2022.


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