Man suffers transient global amnesia after having sex with his wife - medical journal

Man looking confused in bed next to concerned wife
The man experienced sudden memory loss after a mid-afternoon romp with his wife. Photo credit: Getty Images

A man who enjoyed a mid-afternoon romp with his wife suffered a sudden bout of amnesia shortly after, according to a new report published by a medical journal.

I could insert a joke here about mind-blowingly good sex, but I shall resist.

The paper, published in the May 2022 edition of the Irish Medical Journal last week, detailed how the 66-year-old man experienced a sudden onset of transient global amnesia (TGA) about 10 minutes after sexual intercourse.

TGA is a sudden, temporary episode of memory loss that can't be attributed to a more common neurological condition, such as epilepsy or stroke. During an episode of TGA, the person's recall of recent events simply vanishes.

Medics at the Department of Neurology at University Hospital Limerick in Ireland said the case study demonstrated that sex can be a trigger for TGA.

The paper, titled 'Recurrent Postcoital Transient Global Amnesia Associated with Diffusion Restriction within the Left Hippocampus', explained that the man, who was taken to A&E after experiencing the sudden episode of memory loss, had also suffered a similar incident seven years prior.

"On the afternoon of presentation, he had engaged in sexual intercourse 10 minutes before the onset of memory disturbance," the report said.

"After seeing the date on his phone, he became distressed that he had forgotten his wedding anniversary the day before. 

"He had, in fact, celebrated his wedding anniversary with his wife and family on the previous day. 

"His autobiographical memory remained intact, but he had no memory of that morning or the celebrations the night before."

The report added that the man had repetitively questioned his wife and daughter about the events of that morning and the previous day. However, upon presenting at A&E, no other neurological symptoms were detected. 

"Upon arrival at the emergency department, his neurological examination was completely normal."

While the exact cause of TGA is unknown, there is a link between sudden memory loss and a history of migraines. Researchers have also suggested that a lack of sufficient blood flow - ischemia - or oxygen flow to the brain could be associated with the condition. Psychological factors, such as anxiety, may also make TGA more likely in some individuals.

More rarely, episodes of TGA have also been triggered by strenuous exercise, sudden immersion in cold or hot water and sexual intercourse - meaning the man's post-sex memory lapse is not entirely unheard of.

In 2019, reports emerged from China of a woman who had temporarily lost a decade's worth of memories after straining on the toilet.

It's understood that the woman - who was suffering with constipation - had experienced an episode of TGA, with neurologist Dr Peng Jiaxiong explaining that the condition may have been triggered by compromised blood flow to the brain due to the jugular vein valve.

What is transient global amnesia?

According to Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit American academic medical centre, TGA is a rare medical condition in which a person experiences a sudden episode of memory loss. During an episode, a person cannot form new memories (a condition called anterograde amnesia) and has difficulty recalling recent memories (a condition called retrograde amnesia). 

Transient means 'passing', and TGA episodes usually last no more than several hours. In rare cases, TGA can last for up to 24 hours.

People with TGA can usually remember who they are and remember their friends and family members. They can still perform complex daily tasks, such as cooking or driving. They also retain their language and social interaction skills. However, during an episode, they may not know where they are or the day or time.

This condition typically occurs in people between the ages of 50 and 70 and affects approximately three to 10 people out of every 100,000.

For some people, TGA may occur as a result of certain triggers or events, including:

  • Physical exertion
  • Emotional or psychological stress
  • Sudden immersion in cold or hot water
  • Head trauma
  • Pain
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Performing the valsalva manoeuvre: a breathing technique purposely performed by a person as part of a medical test or to slow a rapid heart rate and other uses. It is performed by closing your mouth and pinching your nose and bearing down as if having a bowel movement.

One type of TGA can be caused by excessive alcohol consumption, large doses of barbiturates, illicit drugs or small doses of benzodiazepines.