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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Transient Global Amnesia

Q. I am a nurse and recently had a patient ask me about transient global amnesia. He is 35-years-old and had an episode that lasted one day. Where can I find the most current studies and clinical information?

A. Transient global amnesia is an acute syndrome of memory loss, usually affecting middle-aged or older individuals, in which the person cannot recall visual, verbal, or other learned material/events from the past few days, weeks, or years; and in which the person has difficulty learning new material. Personal identity is maintained, and the affected person has a normal level of attention and awareness.

Usually, the bout of TGA lasts for several hours, after which memory function returns to normal. The precise cause of TGA is still unclear. Pantoni et al provide a good review (Acta Neurol Scand 2000 Nov;102(5):275-83), and note that there are three main pathogenic hypotheses: cerebral ischemia, seizure discharge, and migraine. They conclude that "none of these appears completely convincing" and advance the hypothesis that TGA may be related to psychological disturbances causing transient alteration in brain metabolism and, consequently, amnesia.

You may also want to see the paper by Chen et al (Angiology 2000 Mar;51(3):257-61), entitled, "Transient global amnesia and amaurosis fugax in a patient with common carotid artery occlusion--a case report."

February 2002

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