September 23rd, 2010
08:00 AM ET

What are normal symptoms after Transient Global Amnesia?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Lynn Lemmon, Dunedin, Florida

"My husband recently had his second episode of Transient Global Amnesia. All neuro tests are normal, as expected. However, he had ringing in the ears and dizziness for two to three months leading up to this episode and continuing after it. He also has a persistent headache just above the eyes since this incident. Are all of these things related? If so, what can be done about them?"


Thank you for your question, Lynn. I will begin by saying that Transient Global Amnesia is one of those neurological enigmas - an event that has been described in the medical literature for decades, yet little is known about what causes it or how to prevent it. As its name suggests, TGA episode is sudden, transient (temporary) memory loss. It is a rare event. A person might be in the middle of an activity and suddenly their memory stalls.

TGA is not wholesale memory loss:  people retain basics like who they are, but they may not know, for example, what day it is, where they are, or what they were doing only moments before - and their ability to learn anything new is temporarily impaired. TGA episodes tend to be brief, lasting hours, but usually no more than a day. There is an interesting list of events that tend to precede an episode of TGA like exposure to cold water, emotional stress, pain, and sexual intercourse.

TGA is a disconcerting event, especially for those who witness it, because it echoes other neurological disorders, such as stroke or epilepsy, but what defines TGA is that the memory lapse is simply that - there is no vascular or brain damage as a result of the episode.

Although I cannot speak specifically about your husband's case, I can say that some of the symptoms you spell out commonly accompany episodes of TGA. In fact, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, trembling, sweating, visual disturbance, and racing heartbeat are all symptoms associated with TGA. But having those same symptoms (the headache and dizziness, for example) after the TGA episode is uncommon.

So, what can be done? The first step is to ensure that your husband's recent episode was, in fact, TGA. Keep in mind that there are other vascular disorders that mimic TGA and stroke. If the headache, dizziness and ringing in the ears persist, you may want to take another trip to your neurologist, if only for peace of mind.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.