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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What is amnesia?

Amnesia is a loss of memory. You may not be able to remember information or experiences from the recent or distant past. You may not be able to learn and remember new information. Amnesia may occur for only a short time, such as after a concussion or use of certain medicines. Amnesia may be permanent, such as after a severe brain injury.

What causes amnesia?

  • Head injury
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency
  • Medicines such as benzodiazepines and antidepressants
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Encephalitis (brain infection or inflammation) or a brain tumor
  • Lack of oxygen to your brain such as during cardiac arrest or carbon monoxide poisoning

How is amnesia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you or someone close to you about any medical conditions you have or medicines you take. The provider will also ask questions about your memory loss, and if you have any other symptoms. You may need any of the following:

  • A neurologic exam is also called neuro signs, neuro checks, or neuro status. A neurologic exam can show healthcare providers how well your brain works. Healthcare providers will check how your pupils react to light. They will also test your memory. Your strength, balance, vision, and other brain functions may also be tested.
  • An MRI takes pictures of your brain to show if there are any signs of brain injury. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell a healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell a healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Blood tests may be done to look for the cause of your amnesia such as infection or vitamin B1 deficiency.

How is amnesia treated?

You may need treatment for any conditions that have caused your amnesia. Your healthcare provider may recommend memory training to improve your memory or learn new ways of remembering things. You may need to learn ways of coping with amnesia if it is permanent. You may need to use tools to keep track of daily activities and remind you of events. You may also need help from others to do daily activities.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your amnesia gets worse.
  • You develop new symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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