54-year-old woman checked into Georgetown University Hospital with a peculiar condition: She couldn't recall anything from the past 24 hours. The last thing she remembered was having sex with her husband. An MRI scan revealed nothing unusual, and by the time the woman left the emergency room, her symptoms had faded. What happened? In a new case study published in The Journal of Emergency Medicine, neurologists pose the question: Did "mind-blowing" sex cause this woman to lose her memory? Here's what you should know:
What was her diagnosis?
The woman suffered from a rare condition called "transient global amnesia," or TGA. It's essentially a powerful memory lapse with no lasting side effects. Although this type of amnesia is temporary, "because it's so severe, it can be distressing," says Ted Thornhill at Britain's Daily Mail. Little is known about what causes TGA. Doctors think it has something to do with "misfiring valves in the neck" that upset the natural flow of oxygenated blood between the heart and the brain.
And neurologists think sex was the culprit?
Strenuous physical activity like sex can trigger the condition. Doctors suspect something called the "Valsalva maneuver" — a "bearing down" type of exertion that happens when you lift weights, squat over a toilet, or have an orgasm — may have built pressure in this woman's abdomen and interfered with blood flow to the brain. The result is a "scrambling of the memory circuits," says Dr. Carol Lippa.
Could this happen to me?
Maybe. But it isn't likely. People in their 50s and 60s are most vulnerable, and there are only three to five cases of TGA reported per 100,000 people per year, says Thornhill. The condition "can occur after any activity" — even, theoretically, "while someone is playing Ping-Pong," says Dr. Arthur Shimamura. "But that wouldn't be as titillating."
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