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
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.Next Article
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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 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.
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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 six 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 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.
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Frontotemporal Dementia (Pick's Disease and Semantic Dementia)
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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)
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Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
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Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Life Expectancy
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.
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.
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Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA, Mini-Stroke)
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West Nile Virus
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