Memory blackouts
October 9, 2013 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Memory blackouts. My memory has never been great, but it has gotten much worse in the past few years. It's progressed from locking my keys in the car once a week to "blackouts"--periods of time where I'll forget whole conversations, whole dinners, where people will talk about me doing something the day after I did it and I'll not know what they're talking about. Today I found out I had an entire conversation with my boss that I'd forgotten within a few hours of it occurring. It's not even that I can't remember details, I can't remember that the conversation even happened. What the heck is going on?

First: you're not my doctor, and I have an appointment with a doctor. But I would like to know whether other people have experienced this before freaking out about tumors.

There are no other neurological symptoms, like you'd find in a stroke. I don't have headaches. I don't forget where I am, who I am, or who other people are. I'm not forgetting EVERYTHING, just patches. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to what patches I forget. I am reminded of it more often at work, but that's probably because that's when people notice it most.

My hearing is going to shit, but my hearing has always not been great. It's not so much an issue with hearing the noise as it is comprehending what's said to me. For instance, if someone yells my name, I won't necessarily turn around because I won't realize they're yelling at me. I've preferred subtitles with my movies since high school. This is the case with my dad and my brothers too, so I don't think this is tied to the memory problems though it probably exacerbates them.

Relevant: I have ADHD, depression, don't sleep enough, and because of my work my stress levels have been consistently through the roof for years now. I have read all of these things individually can affect memory. When I'm getting more sleep and less stress I do notice my mind is sharper. But could they really lead to total blackouts like I'm experiencing?
posted by schroedinger to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have heard of epilepsy presenting itself as memory lapses exactly like you describe, and that the "blackouts" are actually petit mal seizures that otherwise show no signs or symptoms.

Make sure you get in to see a neurologist, not just a GP.
posted by phunniemee at 1:47 PM on October 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

Total blackouts like what you're describing means neurologist ASAP. This needs specialist attention urgently.
posted by quince at 1:48 PM on October 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

I have had similar issues that are directly related to medication side effects and combining things that in retrospect I have learned are never to be combined. However, even if you have recently changed/increased/started a medication with similar side effects, you should see a neurologist as soon as humanly possible.
posted by elizardbits at 2:02 PM on October 9, 2013

ADHD, depression, don't sleep enough, stress levels
What meds do you take? You should call your doctor's office and ask them to review your meds prior to your visit. You can also ask a pharmacist if there are memory issues with the meds you take.
When I'm stressed, I leave the car lights on, lose my keys, etc., a lot more than usual. Carry a notebook, and/or use Evernote or something to make lots of notes. Make sure your doctor knows this is urgent.
posted by theora55 at 2:05 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The hippocampus is one of the main areas needed in successful memory encoding and it's a sensitive and volatile part of the brain, more so than some other areas, so there are any number of neurological conditions in which memory loss will present alone before any other symptom. Total sleep deprivation can cause total failure of memory encoding while still leaving you alert and oriented enough to function, and severe acute stress also produces total memory failure in some instances. It's highly sensitive to oxygen deprivation, even at a low level like in sleep apnea, or glucose deprivation seen in diabetes. It's a canary in the brain for all kinds of things, and if I were you I would be getting a physical with blood tests and a cardiovascular workup along with seeing a neurologist.
posted by slow graffiti at 2:07 PM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Any chance you have sleep apnea? I mean, you definitely need a neurologist, but you may also need a sleep study.
posted by KathrynT at 2:19 PM on October 9, 2013

I had petit mal epilepsy/absence seizures from about the age of 13 to 35 and what you're describing could fit the bill nicely. However, I think sleep deprivation is the culprit here. About 15 years ago I was under extreme stress - bankruptcy, adjusting to Parkinson's, denied for disability, my cat died in my arms, and more, and I hadn't been getting any real sleep for weeks. That particular night I was in the middle of moving out of my very much loved mobile home, which I'd given up in bankruptcy, and had some friends helping me move. I remembered a call I had to make to a friend and did so - a 3 or 4 minute conversation. Then I went back to strawbossing the move. Then I remembered a phone call I had to make to a friend, and dialed the exact same number to have the exact same conversation I'd just had five minutes earlier, having completely forgotten that conversation. My daughter heard me and stopped the call before it went through. When she told me, and others backed her up, that I'd just had that very call, I was scared witless - even with the epilepsy, I'd never had anything like that happen. I called my neurologist - late at night, mind you - and he listened as I carried on, then finally told me it was a classic presentation of sleep deprivation - told me to get sleep, lots of it, then make an appointment if this happened again after I had slept. It never did.

I think you should get a workup just to be certain you don't have a tumor or something going on in your brain that could be endangering your life, but seriously - find a way to get a LOT of sleep - consistently - and I'll bet all this goes away. You have something going on here that's serious and could cause you to make dangerous mistakes, so you have to deal with it. I'd begin with a neuro workup and a sleep study.

Best of luck to you.
posted by aryma at 3:06 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

When you go to the doctor, bring a list of all your medications including dosages and when you take them. Also bring someone with you to be a note-taker and advocate.
posted by radioamy at 3:16 PM on October 9, 2013

The "don't sleep enough" part really strikes me as "Doctor, how do i deal with this bruising i keep getting on my face? It won't go away. I'm banging my head on the wall repeatedly every night before i go to bed and..."

I'm 23 and my memory gets really oddly flaky if i don't sleep enough a couple days in a row. I've had weeks where i pretty much got crappy sleep every night and my brain would start to get really weird. Not sleeping well/enough also seems to exacerbate any existing stress and just increase the fog around everything when it comes to "oh god what is all this shit how do i deal with this".

I'm not saying cancel your Dr appointments or anything, and i think the people above saying you should see a neurologist are giving sage(and safe) advice... but really, this reminds me of my friends who ride bikes all day going to the Dr for knee pain.
posted by emptythought at 3:24 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

ADHD, depression and sleep loss, and, especially, medications taken for these things, can definitely affect memory. But...usually, and IANAD but ime, not to the extent of "I can't remember that the conversation even happened." Depression and depression meds can make you kind of...fuzzy. But not usually total blackout spots, you know?

I would go talk to a neurologist on the off-chance something serious is amiss.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:42 PM on October 9, 2013

I'm on Wellbutrin XL, 450mg/day. Up until now I assumed the issue was sleep, one I try to rectify with varying success. But the blackouts are a new and distressing development. After the 3rd-4th time in two weeks (and just at work, don't know if it's happened outside it!) I'm getting worried.
posted by schroedinger at 4:00 PM on October 9, 2013

Not just a list of your meds and doses -- my doctor's office always emphasizes that you should bring the actual bottles. (Ironically, this is the thing I typically forget to do when visiting the doctor.) You wouldn't want to miss some key bit of information or make an error in transcribing it. It's easier and safer to dump them all in a shopping bag and bring them with.

Also, here is a list of Wellbutrin side effects. It is possible you're having one of the rare ones. But everyone else has told you to see the doctor and/or neurologist already, so you're doing what you need to do. Hope it goes well and all you need is a different antidepressant.
posted by Smells of Detroit at 4:26 PM on October 9, 2013

When you say "not enough sleep" are we talking 6-7h, or more like 4? One of my friends who was experimenting with polyphasic sleep once sat down to read a book and write a paper on it and discovered that the book had been highlighted and written in... with notes in his handwriting. After that he ended the experiment.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:32 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wellbutrin is known to lower the threshold for seizures:
Epileptic seizures are the most important adverse effect of bupropion. A high incidence of seizures was responsible for the temporary withdrawal of the drug from the market between 1986 and 1989. The risk of seizure is strongly dose-dependent, but also dependent on the preparation. The sustained-release preparation is associated with a seizure incidence of 0.1% at daily dosages of less than 300 mg of bupropion and 0.4% at 300–400 mg.[31] The immediate release preparation is associated with a seizure incidence of 0.4% for dosages below 450 mg; the incidence climbs to 5% for dosages between 450–600 mg per day.[31] For comparison, the incidence of unprovoked seizure in the general population is 0.07 to 0.09%, and the risk of seizure for a variety of other antidepressants is generally between 0 and 0.6% at recommended dosage levels.[32] Given that clinical depression itself has been reported to increase the occurrence of seizures, it has been suggested that low to moderate doses of antidepressants may not actually increase seizure risk at all.[33] However, this same study found that bupropion and clomipramine were unique among antidepressants in that they were associated with increased incidence of seizures.[33]
The most common adverse effects associated with 12-hour sustained-release bupropion are reported to be dry mouth, nausea, insomnia, tremor, excessive sweating and tinnitus. Those that most often resulted in interruption of the treatment were rash (2.4%) and nausea (0.8%).[30]
and there are masses of anecdotes out there describing blackouts from small amounts of alcohol while taking wellbutrin.
posted by jamjam at 5:13 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't describe these episodes of mine of mine as blackouts, but there have been times I have driven home and had no memory of how I got there, or realize I have "read" several pages in a book with no idea of what I have been reading. I chalk it up to ADD... if I am distracted by something I am thinking about, I can easily go on autopilot with stuff like that.

Conversations and "things I did" are not as commonly forgotten, but if I am very stressed out I can sometimes inadvertently fake my way through the conversation while being completely absorbed in some worry or another, or forget I've performed some task because I wasn't really paying attention in the first place.

So are you very stressed, or very distracted by your own thoughts lately? It might not be so much of a memory problem than maybe you just weren't paying much attention in the first place.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:20 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

i'm guessing it isn't dissociation but you may want to read about it just in case if you aren't familiar with it. on preview it is what the post just above mine is referring to with highway hypnosis or driving on autopilot where we have no memory of actually driving home. it comes in varying levels of severity.
posted by wildflower at 5:23 PM on October 9, 2013

re: wellbutrin - I had a very intense series of seizures from wellbutrin a long time ago, and I remember being told that this reaction was not all that unusual.

Also, very unfortunately, in this case the brand name matters. Ranbaxy Wellbutrin is fucking tainted and should be recalled, everything they make is terrible and you should not take it if you have any other options.
posted by elizardbits at 9:35 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older I need a new immersive game to play   |   Waiting puts a Weight on my Mind Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.