What should I do/know about her sudden memory loss?
July 19, 2009 1:47 AM   Subscribe

What might be the cause of sudden amnesia? Pregnant but healthy woman, two days suddenly completely erased from her memory. And she won't go to the doctor.

Recently X, a family member, in her thirties and 7 months pregnant with her third child, woke up in the middle of the night extremely disoriented (e.g. not knowing if she was pregnant or had imagined it), with an intense sensation of deja vu, and all memories of the previous two days completely erased from her memory. She didn't feel any kind of physical pain. The deja vu and disorientation disappeared but the amnesia has now persisted for a couple of days. Otherwise she's feeling fine and acting perfectly normal. I don't know what to do.

Background: X has never been diagnosed with any kind of mental disorder or illness and doesn't drink or use drugs. She experiences deja vu's relatively frequently, for which she underwent a thorough neurological examination years ago. I was told the results indicated it has "something to do with her amygdala" - there was something unusual although not excatly abnormal about it. (She wasn't diagnosed with epilepsy or anything like that.) For the rest, she is very healthy and normal, if somewhat emotional and very sensitive to stress.

Nothing out of the ordinary or traumatizing has happened to her recently (or ever, really, as far as I know). The beginning of the black hole in her memory coincides with driving a couple of hours to get to her parents' farm - a trip she does several times a year. This time our whole family is gathered here, which I guess she might be experiencing as a bit stressful, although there haven't been any conflicts or anything unpleasant taking place at all. Her relationship with some of us is a little strained, although I'd describe it distant and avoidant rather than hostile in any way.

It's now been two days, and she has decided not to go to the doctor or even call one. The family consensus - we're all still gathered in the middle of nowhere - seems to prioritize keeping her from fretting, so everybody (including her spouse and parents) is treating the whole thing as a trivial matter, just one of those freaky things that happen sometimes. I'm worried (and have been told to keep quiet about it). I mean seriously, amnesia - wtf?

What could be causing this? Are there signs I should be watching out for? Anything I should know? Anything I could read about this online? (Yes, I'd desperately want her to go and see a doctor, but that really is out of my hands now.)
posted by sively to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
IANAD, but Googling suggests that this would be transient global amnesia, which is really just a name for the symptoms you described but might be helpful in putting it in context.
posted by Nomiconic at 1:59 AM on July 19, 2009


This doesn't sound like an emergency, but I'd suggest seeing a neurologist again once she's back at home. It's probably nothing, but you want to make sure it's not something.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:33 AM on July 19, 2009


She might have had a stroke, or problems with the oxygen levels in her blood, according to the link Nomiconic provided. They (Mayo Clinic) recommend calling an ambulance.

Possible way to convince her to go to the doctor: She may not want to go, but her unborn child needs her to go, as it is completely dependent on the mother's health.
posted by Houstonian at 3:27 AM on July 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Doctor. Now.

Why? Because this could be neurologically serious. Pre-eclampsia, or straightforward pregnancy induced hypertension could have caused a cerebral hemorrhage. Either of those could cause another hemorrhage, more serious this time, or the pre-eclampsia progresses to eclampsia (a cause of maternal death).

Those are indeed worst-case scenarios (usually there would be some other symptoms as well as memory loss); but something as serious as losing two days worth of memories, especially in pregnancy, should be thoroughly investigated.

Houstonian is probably right, in that the best way to appeal to go to the doctor would be via the 'unborn child' route. Also talk to her and see if there was anything that upset her about her previous neurological investigation - that might be something discouraging her from going to the doctor about something head related again.

Consider the possibility that she has antenatal depression as well; this is apparently as common as post-natal depression. Losing two days of memory is out of the ordinary in depression, but her disorientation and confusion would fit. She may seem fine if she's hiding how she feels from the family (there are expectations that pregnancy = happy, so depression is concealed). This doesn't negate my previous suggestion that she should have the worst-case scenarios checked out, but if they are clear it may be where the doctors look next.

Best of luck.
posted by Coobeastie at 4:55 AM on July 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Pre-eclampsia, or straightforward pregnancy induced hypertension could have caused a cerebral hemorrhage.

I was just coming in to say this. Purely anecdotal, but I have a friend who was hospitalized with very serious pre-eclampsia and she had something similar (although not identical) happen.

At a minimum, can you convince her to go to a drugstore and have her BP taken by one of those self-serve machines? Far from perfect, but could at least be a very, very basic check.
posted by anastasiav at 7:01 AM on July 19, 2009


She experiences deja vu's relatively frequently, for which she underwent a thorough neurological examination years ago. I was told the results indicated it has "something to do with her amygdala" - there was something unusual although not excatly abnormal about it. (She wasn't diagnosed with epilepsy or anything like that.)

The amygladia is part of the temporal lobe, which has a lot of responsibility in memory formation; the amygladia itself is linked to the regulation of emotional learning. Stress can reduce the seizure threshold, and temporal lobe seizures can involve deja vu, confusion, emotional changes and memory loss, along with a bunch of other potential effects you might want to look out for.

Whatever it is: she should see a doctor, and probably shouldn't drive herself there.
posted by Freaky at 7:02 AM on July 19, 2009


This could be part of something really serious, she needs to see a doctor now. Especially considering that it sounds like she hasn't been regularly visiting her OBGYN during the pregnancy. Suddenly losing 2 days of memory isn't something to downplay.
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 7:44 AM on July 19, 2009


Also, whatever happened to cause the amnesia could be causing her less-than-sound decisionmaking about whether this warrants a doctor's visit as well.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:24 AM on July 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I have temporal lobe epilepsy, the deja vu's are a big part of that. She needs to see a doctor immediately. The child needs to be protected.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:30 AM on July 19, 2009


Anything I could read about this online? (Yes, I'd desperately want her to go and see a doctor, but that really is out of my hands now.)

Perhaps now that you have something to back up your concerns you could perhaps try to appeal to her husband or mother. Everyone is worried about stressing her out so if you approach one of them privately perhaps you can sway them to encourage her to check this out.

I'm not normally one to encourage an end run around another adult but as this is a family gathering there is the group dynamic to take into account so perhaps a private conversation with someone she's close to might help.

Good Luck
posted by Weaslegirl at 9:54 AM on July 19, 2009


Thank you, everyone, for your advice and information.

For now, the situation remains unchanged. I agree it should be looked into and I'm trying my damndest, but as Weaslegirl already figured out, the group dynamic is playing a rather surreal role in all this.
posted by sively at 10:29 AM on July 19, 2009


Please disregard my post. Other users who have pointed out that this merits urgent attention are right.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:42 AM on July 19, 2009


Why does her husband not support the idea of going to the doctor? If you presented him with some of the things that might have caused the amnesia, does it still not change his mind?

I ask because I would think that he would step in with good judgment if she's temporarily misplaced hers. I would think the phrase "a cause of maternal death" would be his wake-up call.
posted by Houstonian at 10:49 AM on July 19, 2009


sively: I agree it should be looked into and I'm trying my damndest, but as Weaslegirl already figured out, the group dynamic is playing a rather surreal role in all this.

I have to say that I know what you're experiencing; it's awful. But you have to snap yourself out of the situation as much as you can.

Families often have this odd dynamic which forces people to be silent about what they're thinking and feeling when they ought to speak up. The thing to remember about this is that it's a machine, and all machines need fuel; this machine runs on fear of alienation and desire to appease. Every person in the room worries that they will be alienated if they speak up, and they have a built-in desire to please the others so that they're accepted. That's why non-family members can often step in and say "what the hell is all this? What are you people doing? Can't you see how ridiculous this is?" without all of the hesitation and mental blockage that a member of the family would have. You have to try as hard as you can to become a non-family member for a moment; put aside the fear of alienation and retaliation and the desire to "tow the line" for the moment and try to act as independently as you can.

After you've steeled yourself to this, the steps have to be pretty simple. The only one really preventing her from leaving is herself; she makes that decision, and though she and everyone else has forgotten this and fallen into a manipulative group dynamic, if she decided to go to the hospital, she would go. So your steps should be something like this:

(1) Since you don't seem to be allowed to talk to her alone much, enter the family gathering, look directly at her, and say: "X? I need to talk to you alone for a moment. Come here." (I don't know how resistant she is being, but if she's being very resistant, you may need to phrase it that way, without a question, so that you're not given her the option to refuse you.) Take her aside to somewhere that it's clear no one else can hear the conversation, for example on a brief walk outside.

(2) Say to her: "X, I'm really worried. I just talked to some friends of mine and did a little research on the internet, and it seems like the kind of amnesia you experienced can be a sign of some really bad things. I'm really hoping you'll be okay, but I'm certain that if we don't go to the hospital right away, you and your baby may be in danger. So I've got my keys, and my car's parked outside; we're going to go to the hospital right now, okay?" Since she seems to be the type of person that tries to ignore problems which require her to make a big decision quickly, you'll have to all but make the decision for her; phrase it in such a way that all she has to do is say "okay," and don't ask open-ended questions ("what do you want to do?" "Where should we go?" "Is there anybody you want me to call?") since she clearly doesn't want to think about this and will probably react to those questions with "aw, let's forget about it, it's probably fine." Just tell her what you two are going to do, and ask her briefly if that's okay; all you need is for her to say yes once.

Once she agrees, walk her out and sit her in the car, and tell her you're going to explain what's happening to the family. She doesn't want to be there for that; she knows, at least subconsciously, that they're pressuring her to stay.

(3) Go back to the family and say: "X and I talked about it, and she wants me to take her to the hospital. Does anybody want to come along for support?" They can complain if they want, they can kvetch if they want, but hopefully enough of them will see the seriousness of what's going on to shut up and be supportive. If not, that's okay; you've always got your backup plan, which is to walk away, start the car, and drive to the hospital.

You don't mention a husband in your question, so I've assumed that either she doesn't have one or he isn't there. If she does have a husband there, he is the one you need to pull aside and convince, not because as a male he has any authority over her but because as her partner he has some say in the matter when it comes to emergencies where she needs to get to a hospital. If you convince him, then you both can convince her.

Good luck. We're all pulling for you.
posted by koeselitz at 12:53 PM on July 19, 2009 [14 favorites]


koeselitz' advice is very good. I would simply add, "...and if you don't come with me to the hospital, I will call for paramedics to come and attend to you here." Good lord. Good luck.
posted by Scram at 4:38 PM on July 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Just in case someone stumbles across this looking for information in a similar situation: X refused all help (and the family, including her husband, sided with her) and shortly after left for a holiday abroad. So, I failed completely, and haven't seen her since.

Fortunately, from what I've heard, she hasn't had another episode during her pregnancy and as far as anyone knows, the baby is doing fine. X is due any day now, and apparently she has later brought this up with her physician. She'll start epilepsy medication either as soon as the baby's born or when she's done breastfeeding. (Apparently some of her reluctance to get medical help was fear of this medication, as it may mean she won't be able to drive a car).

I'm thankful for all the input here, but can't really choose a best answer. Personally, it was just a relief to hear from people who didn't think I was making a big deal out of nothing.

I also learned my family is nuttier than I imagined before.
posted by sively at 9:10 AM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


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