Amnesia Overview: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Amnesia, also known as an amnestic syndrome, occurs when a person experiences the full or partial loss of memory. Amnesia may be permanent or temporary, and it is more severe than common forgetfulness associated with aging and everyday stress. In fact, amnesia is the significant inability to remember important information to such a degree that it has a moderate to severe effect on a person's life.

Learn more about the medical condition with this review of signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment. If you suspect that you or a loved one has amnesia, seek medical attention right away. Often people with memory loss or head injuries may be too confused to realize they need help. Seek immediate medical help, even if they don't understand the gravity of the situation.

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Full or Partial Amnesia

Amnesia may be partial, affecting only certain memories. Amnesia may also involve a total loss of memory and awareness of personal identity, but that is a rare occurrence. Typically people with amnesia still know who they are but struggle to remember new information and to retain new memories.


People with amnesia either have problems with their short-term memory (they struggle to remember new experiences) or they have problems remembering events and information that they experienced or knew in the past. The former kind of amnesia is called anterograde amnesia, and the latter kind is called retrograde amnesia. Some people also suffer from transient global amnesia, or the temporary inability to remember experiences or information.

People with amnesia are often aware that they have a memory disorder, as they do not suffer from the cognitive difficulties that their counterparts with dementia have. Individuals with amnesia usually have the same personality and cognitive ability that they had previously. They simply struggle to retain new information and experiences or to recall previous information and experiences. Some people with amnesia, however, may have false memories, out of sequence memories or be confused at times.

Common Causes 

Amnesia can be caused by a brain injury that affects parts of the brain related to memory processing. Seizures, tumors, certain medications, degenerative brain diseases, inflammation of the brain, or lack of oxygen to the brain may also lead to the development of amnesia.

In addition, amnesia can be caused by substance abuse, such as alcoholism, or trauma, such as being subjected to a violent crime. People who have suffered severe traumatic experiences may experience full or partial amnesia surrounding those events.


Treatment varies depending on the cause and severity of amnesia. Usually, patients with amnesia receive psychological help and tools to help them recover their memories. Assisted technological devices can help people with amnesia stay organized and keep track of their affairs.

Unfortunately, amnesia can cause major problems in the personal and professional lives of patients. If amnesia is severe enough, some patients may need to be moved to an assisted living facility.

Minimize your risk of developing amnesia by avoiding heavy drinking, protecting your head while riding a bike and seeking prompt medical care for infections to prevent them from spreading to the brain.

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  • Mayo Clinic. "Amnesia."