Transient epileptic amnesia (TEA) is a rare neurological condition. It occurs in people with temporal lobe epilepsy, specifically affecting the memory-related structures within the brain. It can cause amnesic episodes of sudden and temporary memory loss.

During episodes, individuals may find it difficult to recall recent events or experiences, which can be puzzling and distressing. Furthermore, these episodes may impair their ability to form new memories.

It is distinct from other forms of amnesia, such as psychogenic amnesia or transient global amnesia, as it has specific links to epileptic activity in the brain.

This article provides an overview of TEA, including its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

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Doctors characterize TEA as a rare neurological condition with recurrent episodes of transient amnesia or amnesic episodes.

Specifically, amnesic episodes affect personal memories, which people call autobiographical memory, or memories of specific events, which individuals call episodic memory. Memory impairment is usually restricted to amnesic episodes, and individuals typically regain their memory function between episodes.

People with TEA usually have underlying temporal lobe epilepsy involving the hippocampus and surrounding brain structures responsible for memory consolidation and retrieval. Health experts do not fully understand the exact mechanisms underlying TEA, but they believe it has links to atypical electrical activity in the brain, specifically within the temporal lobes.

Since the publication of the diagnostic criteria in 1998, medical literature reports that there have only been around 250 cases.

Learn more about amnesia.

During episodes of TEA, individuals can experience sudden and temporary memory loss. They may have difficulties recalling personal experiences, events, or details about their own lives. The amnesic episodes can range in duration, lasting from a few seconds to several minutes.

In many cases, individuals with TEA experience additional symptoms during their episodes, which are more characteristic of typical epileptic seizures. They can include:

  • olfactory hallucinations, which involve smelling odors that are not really there
  • automatism, which involves engaging in automatic repetitive movements
  • having brief moments of being unresponsive

The long-term effects of TEA are still an area of ongoing research. Also, since it is a relatively newly recognized condition, there is limited data on the long-term consequences specifically relating to it.


One of the primary concerns with TEA is the potential effect on memory function. Recurrent amnesic episodes can lead to ongoing memory difficulties between episodes. They can involve experiencing:

  • difficulty remembering personal experiences
  • difficulty retaining new information over time, which doctors call accelerated long-term forgetting
  • difficulty remembering specific places or locations, which doctors call topographical amnesia

Persistent memory issues between the amnesic episodes are called interictal memory difficulties. Gaps in memory can affect an individual’s ability to recall important events or even everyday activities. This can be particularly distressing and may affect relationships, work performance, and daily functioning.

Doctors do not fully understand the triggers for TEA. In some cases, specific activities trigger TEA episodes that activate the brain regions that the condition affects. These activities can include emotional stress or sleep deprivation. Furthermore, episodes often occur when a person wakes.

Diagnosing TEA involves a full evaluation by a neurologist or epileptologist and involves looking for evidence of epilepsy and amnesic episodes. An epileptologist specializes in epilepsy and related disorders.

The doctor will thoroughly review the individual’s medical history, including any previous episodes of amnesia or seizure-like activity. They will also inquire about the amnesic episodes — their specific nature, frequency, and duration — and test cognitive function.

Doctors also use electroencephalogram (EEG) testing. EEG is a noninvasive test that records the electrical activity of the brain. It can help detect atypical brainwave patterns relating to epileptic activity. In TEA, the EEG findings may reveal characteristic abnormalities in the temporal lobes that can support a diagnosis.

Treatment of TEA aims to:

  • reduce the frequency and severity of amnesic episodes
  • improve memory function
  • optimize the individual’s overall quality of life

Antiseizure medications can reduce the frequency of TEA episodes and may ease issues with a person’s thinking ability. These drugs commonly include:

  • levetiracetam
  • carbamazepine or oxcarbazepine
  • lamotrigine

Regular follow-up with a neurologist is essential to monitor the effectiveness of the medication and make any necessary adjustments.

Cognitive interventions — such as memory training and strategies — may also help memory function and compensate for any difficulties. Working with a neuropsychologist or cognitive rehabilitation specialist can help individuals develop personalized techniques and tools to enhance memory recall and optimize a person’s ability to think.

Learn more about cognitive rehabilitation.

Below are some questions on transient epileptic amnesia:

How rare is transient epileptic amnesia?

TEA is rare and only affects a small percentage of the population. Therefore, health experts have not established how common it is. Still, medical literature notes report that there have only been only 250 cases.

Can you drive with transient epileptic amnesia?

The ability to drive with TEA may depend on various factors, including:

  • the individual’s specific situation
  • the frequency and severity of episodes
  • cognitive function

Those with TEA need to consult with a healthcare professional and local driving authorities to determine their eligibility to drive safely.

What is the difference between transient epileptic amnesia and transient global amnesia?

TEA and transient global amnesia (TGA) are two distinct conditions that share similarities regarding memory impairment. TEA relates to epilepsy, particularly in the temporal lobe, while there is a lack of full understanding of what causes TGA.

Additionally, doctors characterize TEA by recurrent amnesic episodes, often involving autobiographical memory. In contrast, TGA is typically a single, self-limiting episode of profound anterograde amnesia. Anterograde amnesia refers to memory loss where a person cannot form new memories.

Transient epileptic amnesia (TEA) is a rare neurological condition that doctors characterize by recurrent episodes of transient amnesia. It primarily affects individuals with underlying temporal lobe epilepsy.

During TEA episodes, individuals experience sudden and temporary memory deficits, often involving autobiographical or episodic memory. As a result, individuals may find it challenging to recall recent events or form new memories during these episodes. However, memory function is typically restored in between episodes.

TEA can significantly affect daily life and may cause distress to affected individuals. However, prompt diagnosis and appropriate management with antiseizure medication can help control TEA episodes and improve overall quality of life.