Close-up of two pairs of feet poking out from underneath a bedroom comforter.
Sex can cause amnesia, and doctor's aren't sure why. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Matthew Romack/Flickr)

Live Science reports that a 54-year-old woman experienced memory loss under strange circumstances. According to emergency room doctors at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., the otherwise healthy woman developed amnesia after having sex with her husband. She was unable to remember events of the past 24 hours, and newly formed memories were also hazy.

Mind-blowing sex a rare condition

The strange case of sex causing amnesia was reported in the September issue of The Journal of Emergency Medicine. The woman experienced transient global amnesia, a very rare condition in which memory suddenly disappears for a temporary interval, typically for a few hours. Magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography show nothing unusual and no damage to the brain. Patients remain otherwise talkative and alert.

According to medical experts, only three to five people per 100,000 are stricken with the condition each year. The cause of transient global amnesia isn’t clear, although doctors suspect that sexual activity is related. Doctors are also unsure why most people who experience transient global amnesia do so only once.

“We don’t know very much about the cause,” said neurologist Dr. Sebastian Ameriso from the Institute for Neurological Research in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “It causes a lot of alarm, but this is not a stroke or an event that causes damage to the brain. It’s almost always very benign.”

The Valsalva maneuver

Doctors’ best guess regarding the trigger for transient global amnesia is related to the Valsalva maneuver, named after 17th century Italian physician Antonio Maria Valsalva. A January 2010 study in the medical journal Stroke noted that in the neck sonograms of patients who’d experienced transient global amnesia, 80 percent had insufficient valve function in the jugular vein, which carries oxygen-spent blood from the brain to the heart.

Conceivably, if the valves fail to close properly, oxygen-poor blood could fail to leave the area near the central brain, which is key to memory formation. The exertion of sexual activity – a variation on the Valsalva maneuver – triggers pressure against the blockage. Doctors believe this could be the cause of transient amnesia.

Sudden memory loss? Check the veins

Ameriso told LiveScience that while it is not imprudent for patients to go to the emergency room when they experience the kind of sudden memory loss that accompanies a condition like transient global amnesia, doctors should not automatically assume there has been a stroke if no other tell-tale signs are present. By checking vein sufficiency, time and money can be saved in diagnosing temporary conditions like transient global amnesia.

On memories and amnesia


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