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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.

For more information regarding memory loss problems, continue to the following pages:


Raymond Rybicki, MD

This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your specific medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional. Communicate promptly with your physician or other health care professional with any health-related questions or concerns.

Be sure to follow specific instructions given to you by your physician or health care professional.

The materials provided at this site are for informational purposes and are not intended for use as diagnosis or treatment of a health problem or as substitute for consulting a licensed medical professional. Check with a physician if you suspect you are ill, or believe you may have one of the problems discussed on our website, as many problems and diseases may be serious and even life-threatening. Also note while we frequently update our website's content, medical information changes rapidly.

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