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A surprising source of traumatic brain injury amnesia

Not all brain injuries reported in New York are permanently debilitating, but even minor brain injuries can have a frightening impact on a person's life. While brain injuries are often associated with a physical blow to the head, doctors have discovered that such injuries can also be the result of drug abuse.

As described by The Brain Clinic, most brain injuries that occur in the United States each year are considered mild traumatic brain injuries. While the characteristics of a mild TBI have not been clearly defined within medical literature, researchers now believe that post-traumatic amnesia is a strong indication of the presence of a brain injury. Doctors define post-traumatic amnesia as, "the period of time from the last memory before the trauma until the return of normal continuous memory when the individual is consistently oriented and can demonstrate consistent recall." The length of this time, when a person has difficulty forming new memories and may float in and out of a complete awareness of their situation, is believed to indicate the severity of a brain injury. The longer the PTA, the more severe the injury. Post-traumatic amnesia is not permanent, and most people eventually recover fully from mild traumatic brain injuries.

The Atlantic recently reported on a troubling new subset of people who are demonstrating amnesia due to brain injury: opioid abusers. Neurologists identified a number of opioid abusers in the last few years who have reported an inability to form new memories. In an MRI, it became clear that these patients were receiving low blood flow to their hippocampi, which plays an important role in forming new memories. While in most cases, the amnesia eventually reversed itself as the brain recovered normal blood flow, in some patients, the damage was permanent. Because opioids do not typically affect the brain this way, and only a handful of users were affected, neurologists believe this amnesia may be the result of either a rare, synthetic opioid or of using multiple drugs at once.




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