Memory loss, also referred to as amnesia, is an abnormal degree of forgetfulness and/or inability to recall past events. Depending on the cause, memory loss may have either a sudden or gradual onset, and memory loss may be permanent or temporary. Memory loss may be limited to the inability to recall recent events, events from the distant past, or a combination of both. Although the normal aging process can result in difficulty in learning and retaining new material, normal aging itself is not a cause of significant memory loss unless there is accompanying disease that is responsible for the memory loss.
Transient global amnesia is a rare, temporary, complete loss of all memory. Anterograde amnesia refers to the inability to remember recent events in the aftermath of a trauma, but recollection of events in the distant past in unaltered. Retrograde amnesia is the inability to remember events preceding a trauma, but recall of events afterward is possible.
Memory loss has multiple causes including
- a number of chronic medical and psychological conditions,
- drug or alcohol abuse, and
Other Causes of Memory Loss
- Cerebrovascular Disease
- Head Trauma
- Mild Cognitive Impairment
- Neurodegenerative Diseases
- Prolonged Toxin Exposure
- Psychological/Emotional Disturbances
- Sleep Disorders
- Vitamin Deficiencies
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
- Wilson's Disease
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Causes of Memory Loss
Alcohol and Teens
Alcohol is the most frequently used drug by American teenagers. Teens that drink are more likely to drive under the influence, have unprotected sex, and use other drugs, like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Symptoms of alcohol abuse in teens include lying, breaking curfew, becoming verbally or physically abusive toward others, making excuses, smelling like alcohol, having mood swings, and stealing.
Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
Alcoholism is a disease that includes alcohol craving and continued drinking despite repeated alcohol-related problems, such as losing a job or getting into trouble with the law. It can cause myriad health problems, including cirrhosis of the liver, birth defects, heart disease, stroke, psychological problems, and dementia. Counseling and a few medications can be effective for alcoholism treatment.
Alzheimer's disease is a common cause of dementia. Symptoms and warning signs of Alzheimer's disease include memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, disorientation to time and place, misplacing things, and more. The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is increased age. Treatment for Alzheimer's is often targeted toward decreasing the symptoms and progression of the disease.
Brain Damage: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment
Brain damage causes destruction or deterioration of brain cells. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and acquired brain injury (ABI) are two kinds of brain damage. Symptoms may include headaches, confusion, memory problems, nausea, and more. Treatment includes patient stabilization and ensuring that blood and oxygen are flowing to the brain. Adequate blood pressure control is also necessary. In cases of severe brain damage, surgery and rehabilitation may be required.
A brain tumor can be either non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant), primary, or secondary. Common symptoms of a primary brain tumor are headaches, seizures, memory problems, personality changes, and nausea and vomiting. Causes and risk factors include age, gender, family history, and exposure to chemicals. Treatment is depends upon the tumor type, grade, and location.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS or SEID)
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID) is a debilitating and complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that lasts 6 months or longer, is not improved by bed rest, and may be worsened by physical or mental activity.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a rare, degenerative, invariably fatal brain disorder. CJD generally appears in the later years and runs a rapid course. Symptoms of CJD include failing memory, lack of coordination, visual disturbances, failing memory, blindness, weakness, and eventually coma. There are three major categories of CJD; 1) sporadic CJD, 2) hereditary CJD, and 3) acquired CJD. There is no cure for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Dementia is defined as a significant loss of intellectual abilities such as memory capacity, severe enough to interfere with social or occupational functioning. There are several different types of dementia, including cortical, subcortical, progressive, primary, and secondary dementias. Other conditions and medication reactions can also cause dementia. Dementia is diagnosed based on a certain set of criteria. Treatment for dementia is generally focused on the symptoms of the disease.
Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts and affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. The principal types of depression are major depression, dysthymia, and bipolar disease (also called manic-depressive disease).
Drug Abuse and Addiction
Drug abuse and addiction is a chronic disease that causes drug-seeking behavior and drug use despite negative consequences to the user and those around him. Though the initial decision to use drugs is voluntary, changes in the brain caused by repeated drug abuse can affect a person's self-control and ability to make the right decisions and increase the urge to take drugs. Drug abuse and addiction are preventable.
Encephalitis is a brain inflammation that causes sudden fever, vomiting, headache, light sensitivity, stiff neck and back, drowsiness, and irritability. Treatment may incorporate anticonvulsants and antiviral medications.
Encephalopathy refers to brain disease, damage, or malfunction. Learn about what causes encephalopathy as well as types, symptoms, stages, and treatment.
Face Blindness (Prosopagnosia)
Face blindness (prosopagnosia) is a condition that causes the inability to recognize faces. Face blindness may be caused by stroke, traumatic brain injury, or certain neurodegenerative diseases. Treatment involves helping the patient develop compensatory strategies.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, and tender points. Stress reduction, exercise, and medication are the standard treatments for fibromyalgia.
Frontotemporal Dementia (Pick's Disease and Semantic Dementia)
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a syndrome that is associated with shrinking of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Frontotemporal dementia used to be referred to as Pick's disease. Frontotemporal dementia has a strong genetic component. Symptoms of frontotemporal dementia include changes in behavior or problems with language. There is no treatment that slows the progression of frontotemporal dementia. Medication may be prescribed to improve symptoms. The outcome for patient's with frontotemporal dementia is poor.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection left untreated causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a type of virus called a retrovirus, which can infect humans when it comes in contact with tissues that line the vagina, anal area, mouth, or eyes, or through a break in the skin. HIV infection is generally a slowly progressive disease in which the virus is present throughout the body at all stages of the disease. Three stages of HIV infection have been described. The initial stage of infection (primary infection), which occurs within weeks of acquiring the virus, often is characterized by the flu- or mono-like illness that generally resolves within weeks. The stage of chronic asymptomatic infection (meaning a long duration of infection without symptoms) lasts an average of eight to 10 years without treatment. The stage of symptomatic infection, in which the body's immune (or defense) system has been suppressed and complications have developed, is called the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The symptoms are caused by the complications of AIDS, which include one or more unusual infections or cancers, severe loss of weight, and intellectual deterioration (called dementia). When HIV grows (that is, by reproducing itself), it acquires the ability to change (mutate) its own structure. These mutations enable the virus to become resistant to previously effective drug therapy. The goals of drug therapy are to prevent damage to the immune system by the HIV virus and to halt or delay the progress of the infection to symptomatic disease. Therapy for HIV includes combinations of drugs that decrease the growth of the virus to such an extent that the treatment prevents or markedly delays the development of viral resistance to the drugs. The best combination of drugs for HIV are those that effectively suppress viral replication in the blood and also are well tolerated and simple to take so that people can take the medications consistently without missing doses.
Hydrocephalus is an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the ventricles of the brain. The fluid is often under increased pressure and can compress and damage the brain. Symptoms of hydrocephalus vary with age, progression of the disease, and individual tolerance to the condition. Hydrocephalus is most often treated by surgery in which a shunt system is inserted.
Hypercalcemia (Elevated Calcium Levels)
Hypercalcemia is a condition in which calcium levels in the blood are elevated. Hypercalcemia is associated with other conditions such as hyperparathyroidism, lung cancer, breast cancer, kidney failure, and elevated levels of vitamin D. Symptoms of hypercalcemia include constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, and kidney stones. Treatment depends on the cause of hypercalcemia.
Jet lag (desynchonosis) is a temporary disorder that results from travel across time zones. Symptoms include anxiety, constipation, headache, nausea, dehydration, diarrhea, confusion, sweating, irritability, and even memory loss.
Lewy Body Dementia (Dementia with Lewy Bodies)
Lewy body dementia (LBD or dementia with Lewy bodies) is one the most common causes of dementia. There are two types of LBD: 1) dementia with Lewy bodies, and 2) Parkinson's disease dementia. Symptoms of LBD are changes in a person's ability to think, movement problems, and sleep disorders. Treatment of LBD includes lifestyle changes, management of symptoms, palliative care, and medications to manage symptoms.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Multiple sclerosis or MS is an autoimmune disorder in which brain and spinal cord nerve cells become demyelinated. This damage results in symptoms that may include numbness, weakness, vertigo, paralysis, and involuntary muscle contractions. Different forms of MS can follow variable courses from relatively benign to life-threatening. MS is treated with disease-modifying therapies. Some MS symptoms can be treated with medications.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Symptoms and Treatments
Multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms vary from person to person, and can last for days to months without periods of remission. Symptoms of MS include sexual problems and problems with the bowel, bladder, eyes, muscles, speech, swallowing, brain, and nervous system. The early symptoms and signs of multiple sclerosis usually start between age 20 and 40. MS in children, teens, and those over age 40 is rare. Treatment options for multiple sclerosis vary depending on the type and severity of symptoms. Medications may be prescribed to manage MS symptoms.
Parkinson's disease is a slowly progressive neurological disease characterized by a fixed inexpressive face, a tremor at rest, slowing of voluntary movements, a gait with short accelerating steps, peculiar posture and muscle weakness, caused by degeneration of an area of the brain called the basal ganglia, and by low production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Most patients are over 50, but at least 10 percent are under 40.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which the person has seizures. There are two kinds of seizures, focal and generalized. There are many causes of epilepsy. Treatment of epilepsy (seizures) depends upon the cause and type of seizures experienced.
A stroke is an interruption of the blood supply to part of the brain caused by either a blood clot (ischemic) or bleeding (hemorrhagic). Symptoms of a stroke may include weakness, numbness, double vision or vision loss, confusion, vertigo, difficulty speaking, or understanding speech. A physical exam, imaging tests, neurological exam, and blood tests may be used to diagnose a stroke. Treatment may include administration of clot-busting drugs, supportive care, and in some instances, neurosurgery. The risk of stroke can be reduced by controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and stopping smoking.
Teen Drug Abuse
Drugs commonly abused by teens include tobacco products, marijuana, cold medications, inhalants, depressants, stimulants, narcotics, hallucinogens, PCP, ketamine, Ecstasy, and anabolic steroids. Some of the symptoms and warning signs of teen drug abuse include reddened whites of eyes, paranoia, sleepiness, excessive happiness, seizures, memory loss, increased appetite, discolored fingertips, lips or teeth, and irritability. Treatment of drug addiction may involve a combination of medication, individual, and familial interventions.
There are several types of thyroid disorders including hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, goiters, thyroid nodules, and thyroid cancer. Symptoms vary by condition. Diagnosis is made with blood tests, scans, ultrasound, or biopsy. Treatments depend on the disorder and can include medication or surgery.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA, Mini-Stroke)
When a portion of the brain loses blood supply, through a blood clot or embolus, a transient ischemic attack (TIA, mini-stroke) may occur. If the symptoms do not resolve, a stroke most likely has occurred. Learn the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment for a transient ischemic attack.
West Nile Virus
West Nile virus (West Nile encephalitis) is a brain infection caused by a virus. People become infected with the virus after they're bitten by a mosquito that has fed off of a bird that's infected with the West Nile virus. Symptoms in humans include fever, headache, rash, body ache, and swollen lymph nodes. Treatment for a West Nile virus infection involves supportive care.
Why Do I Forget Things Easily?
Forgetting things is quite common. You may forget things easily due to aging, Alzheimer's disease, stress, head injury, medications and other reasons.
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