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News from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation

 

Most of us have experienced bouts of short-term memory loss, but have you ever lost hours of memory at a time? While this could potentially be a sign of a stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack), you may be less familiar with something called Transient Global Amnesia (TGA).

TGA is a sudden, temporary episode of short-term memory loss that can’t be attributed to common neurological conditions such as epilepsy or stroke. Individuals experiencing a TGA find their recall of recent events simply vanishes. The result is an inability to recall where you are or how you got there. Many people that have a TGA can’t remember what is happening in the here and now.

The exact cause of TGA is unknown. Research suggests it results from a lack of sufficient blood flow (called ischemia) or oxygen flow (called hypoxia) to the brain. Triggers include physical exertion, emotional or psychological stress, sudden immersion in cold or hot water, and head trauma. Sexual intercourse has been cited as a trigger, as well as something called the Valsalva maneuver, a breathing technique performed as part of a medical test to slow a rapid heart rate.



During a TGA episode, a person can’t form new memories. This condition is called anterograde amnesia. Many have difficulty recalling recent memories, called retrograde amnesia.

One sign includes repeating the same questions over and over because you don’t remember the answers you’ve just been given. Other reactions include having no memory when asked to remember things that happened at a different period of time. During recovery, most people slowly begin to remember circumstances or events.




TGS is most common among persons ages 50 to 70, with no gender difference. A TGA patient remembers things such as who they are and they will recognize people they know well. People with TGA can perform complex daily tasks such as cooking or driving. They also retain language and social interaction skills. However, during an episode, they may not know who they are or the time of day.

There is no specific treatment, although it is generally diagnosed through a physical exam. Your doctor may order tests such as blood tests, Computed Tomography (CT), and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Transient means passing, thus most afflicted people gradually remember things over a few hours.

There are signs and symptoms that will help your physician diagnose TGA, such as witnessed memory loss, identity retention despite memory loss, normal cognition such as the ability to follow directions and recognize and name familiar objects, and the absence of signs indicating damage to the brain such as limb paralysis, involuntary movement, or impaired word recognition.

Three to 10 people out of 100,000 will experience a TGA in his or her lifetime. It is possible to have a second TGA episode although it is extremely rare to have more than two. The good news is TGA generally isn’t serious. But, even temporary memory loss can cause emotional distress and can be very frightening for the patient and family.

 


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