What is Amnesia Types, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Overview | Types| Causes | Symptoms | Risks | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention tips

Simply, we can say that a severe form of forgetfulness is called amnesia. But, is it curable? How you would feel if you have amnesia? Is there any way to prevent amnesia? These are some of the questions that one can have regarding amnesia. If you have no idea about it. Then don’t worry, because in this article you will found all the answers to your questions. So without wasting any time, let’s know about amnesia.

What is amnesia?

Amnesia or amnesiac syndrome is a dramatic form of memory loss or a condition in which a person can no longer memorize or recall information that is stored in memory. In the Greek language, the word ‘amnesia’ means forgetfulness. However, amnesia is quite complicated and severe than ‘just’ forgetfulness. If you have amnesia, you may be able to recall your past or/and hold on to the recent present only.

In medical language, amnesia is a deficit of memory caused by brain damage or disease. Some medications like hypnotic drugs etc. Can also cause amnesia, but individual get back to normal after some time, in this case only.

Amnesia is a rare memory related disorder, although it is quite famous, all thanks to movies and soap operas.

Types of amnesia:

The prominent type of amnesia are —

  • Anterograde amnesia – An individual with anterograde amnesia can not remember new information. Events that took place recently and all such things that is stored in short – term memory becomes vanished. This is generally due to a trauma or brain injury. In this, a person can remember all the things took place before the trauma, but the trauma and it’s after information may not be gathered in the individual’s memory.
  • Retrograde amnesia – We can consider retrograde trauma as the opposite of anterograde trauma. Because in this, a person may not remember anything before the trauma, but things happened after trauma can be collectable in the individual’s memory.

In rarest condition, a person may suffer anterograde amnesia and retrograde amnesia at the same time, together.

Other types of amnesia are as follows—

  • Traumatic amnesia: A hard blow to the head, such as in a car accident, etc., can be a result of head injury and memory loss. After that, I the Individual may suffer coma or subconscious mind for a long period. Although it is temporary, how long it will exist will depend on the severity of the amnesia.
  • Transient global amnesia: In this, an individual suffers complete memory loss, past and present both. This a rare condition, which includes difficulty in the formation of new memories also. Elders or older adults who have any vascular or blood vessel disease are more likely to get this type of amnesia.
  • Hysterical or Dissociative amnesia: A person with dissociative amnesia not only forgets all his/her past but even who they are. Yes, in this amnesia, people’s identity gets vanished from their minds. They may get up one day and forget all about them. Even they may be unable to recognize their faces. Individuals suffering from such a trauma, that their minds are unable to cope with; are more likely to get this amnesia. Usually, the memory may return after some time or some days, but the memory related to trauma or shock may never come back.
  • Childhood or infantile amnesia: In this, a person is unable to recall his/her childhood memories. It can be so because of the undeveloped areas of the brain, language development problems,s, etc.
  • Wernicke – Korsakoff’s psychosis: It happens due to prolonged use of alcohol. It is a progressive memory loss, which gets worse over time. Along with this, the patient may suffer neurological problems also. Malnutrition, lack of vitamin B1, etc. Can also lead to this type of amnesia.
  • Posthypnotic amnesia: Events during hypnosis can not be recalled.
  • Source amnesia: Source of the information gets vanished.
  • Blackout phenomenon: Experience memory gaps.
  • Prosopamnesia: Suffer can not remember faces.

Causes of amnesia:

It can be divided into two categories — neurological and functional.

   Neurological amnesia:

  • Trauma from any unpleasant incident like a car accident, fall from a ladder etc.
  • Stroke
  • Brain tumor
  • Seizure
  • All types of dementias like Alzheimer’s etc.
  •  Syphilis
  • Certain medications
  • Encephalitis
  • Brain inflammation
  • Lack of oxygen
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Chronic alcoholism
  • Electro conclusive therapy
  • Thyroid
  • Radiation
  • Vitamin B1 and B12 deficiency
  • Damage of the hippocampus
  • High levels of corticosteroids
  • Stress
  • All types of brain injuries, brain infection, and brain diseases

Functional amnesia:

It is rare than neurological amnesia. This psychiatric disorder is not associated with any disease but because of emotional trauma. In this, a person may forget it’s past, and if severe, can forget his/her own identity.

All types of Amnesia can be progressive, permanent or temporary.

Symptoms of amnesia:

  • Disability to learn new information  (anterograde amnesia)
  • Disability to recall past events  (retrograde amnesia)
  • Confabulation
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Partial or complete memory loss

Risk factors:

  • Brain surgery
  • Brain injury
  • Trauma
  • Stroke
  • Seizure
  • Alcohol abuse

Diagnosis: Your doctor will talk to you, to know about your memory access, his much you can recall your last etc. They may also refer you for some formal testing called a neuropsychological evaluation. Several tests can be ordered like –

  • Blood test to check the levels of thyroid hormones, Vitamin B1 and B12
  • Imaging test ( MRI and CT scan) to examine any brain injury, brain tumour, stroke etc.
  • Electroencephalogram test to check seizure activity.
  • Spinal tap to check the cause of memory loss such as brain infection etc.


Young doctor looking at computer tomography x-ray image

 Treatment of amnesia depends on the underlying cause of it.

  • Chemically induced amnesia can be cured by detoxification.
  • Amnesia caused by mild head trauma usually resolves over time, without treatment.
  • Amnesia due to severe head injuries may not subside. But improvement is possible.
  • Amnesia due to dementia can not be resolved.

Prevention from amnesia:

  • Avoid alcohol consumption
  • Avoid dehydration.
  • Stay mentally active always. Invest some time in your hobbies.
  • Be socially active. Meet your loved ones whenever possible.
  • Stay physically active
  • Have a heart-healthy diet, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, etc.
  • Quit smoking
  • Wear a helmet while driving and playing sports, and a seat belt while driving.
  • Have a good and tight sleep
  • Avoid any health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, etc.
  • Make sure to take care of your brain, from injuries, damage, etc.
  • Severe headache, one-sided numbness, paralysis, etc. Are some of the symptoms one should not avoid at any cost.
  • Exercise. Especially cardiovascular and strength training is quite beneficial.

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