Memory & Memory Loss Causes

Memory problems can be caused by several conditions, including the following:

  • Alcoholism and illegal drug use (may interfere with medications and brain chemicals and lead to thiamin deficiency [Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome])
  • Brain injuries (including concussion, head trauma, and bleeding between the brain and skull) and brain tumors
  • Changes in the brain (e.g., due to the abnormal buildup of proteins or shrinkage of the hippocampus [portion of the brain critical for memory functioning])
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (rare brain illness that can result in chronic dementia)
  • Dehydration (low levels of fluid in the body)
  • Depression, anxiety, and stress (may trigger memory issues that improve with treatment or psychogenic amnesia [rare])
  • Electroconvulsive therapy
  • Epilepsy and seizures
  • Infections (e.g., HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, herpes, syphilis)
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain (due to stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), heart attack, respiratory problems, and carbon monoxide poisoning)
  • Malnutrition (e.g., lack of thiamin [vitamin B-1] or vitamin B-12)
  • Medications and drug interactions
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH; excessive buildup of fluid in the brain can increase pressure and squeeze brain tissue)
  • Overactive or underactive thyroid gland
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Wilson's disease (results in too much copper in the body, which can cause brain damage)

Risk factors for amnesia include brain trauma (e.g., surgery, head injury), stroke, and excessive alcohol use. Risk factors for mild cognitive impairment (MCI) include high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes. People with lower levels of education, physical and mental exercise, and socialization, and people with a mutation of the APOE (apolipoprotein E) gene also are at higher risk for developing memory problems.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 28 Dec 2008

Last Modified: 25 Sep 2015