Transient global amnesia and functional retrograde amnesia: contrasting examples of episodic memory loss

Mark Kritchevsky, Joyce Zouzounis, Larry R. Squire


We studied 11 patients with transient global amnesia (TGA) and 10 patients with functional retrograde amnesia (FRA). Patients with TGA had a uniform clinical picture: a severe, relatively isolated amnesic syndrome that started suddenly, persisted for 4−12 h, and then gradually improved to essentially normal over the next 12−24 h. During the episode, the patients had severe anterograde amnesia for verbal and non-verbal material and retrograde amnesia that typically covered at least two decades. Thirty hours to 42 days after the episode, the patients had recovered completely and performed normally on tests of anterograde and retrograde amnesia. By contrast, patients with FRA had a sudden onset of memory problems that were characterized by severe retrograde amnesia without associated anterograde amnesia and with a clinical presentation that otherwise varied considerably. The episodes persisted from several weeks to more than two years, and some of the patients had not recovered at the time of our last contact with them. The uniform clinical picture of TGA and the variable clinical picture of FRA presumably reflect their respective neurologic (‘organic’) and psychogenic (‘non-organic’) aetiologies.

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