Understanding the Headache-Memory Connection
There are a variety of common symptoms associated with cluster headaches, such as pain behind one eye, pain on one side of the head, eye tearing, a swollen eyelid, stuffy or runny nose, and sweating. These symptoms are often very severe.1,2
There are additional cluster headache symptoms that are somewhat less common but can have devastating long-term effects. One such example is short-term memory loss, which may be accompanied by confusion and changes in speech or behavior.
The purpose of this article is to explore the connection between cluster headaches and memory loss, including the causes of sudden memory loss and short term memory loss, and test options that physicians may conduct.
What Causes Memory Loss?
Many people wonder can headaches cause memory loss and what the possible connection is between their headaches and changes in memory. The short term memory is the body’s working memory system that stores pieces of information for just a few seconds or minutes. This is the memory system that allows individuals to recall something they just read, someone’s name they were just introduced to, or why they walked into a room to retrieve something. People who experience short term memory loss often misplace items, cannot think of the right words to say, and call people by the wrong names.
Sudden memory loss may be caused by many different medical conditions, such as cluster headaches, fibromyalgia, sleep disorders, chronic fatigue, and nutritional deficiencies. Certain prescriptions can also cause short term memory loss as a side effect. Studies have linked stress and excess dietary sugar to memory loss as well.
Headaches and Memory Loss
Cognitive Motor Neuroscience Group at the University College of London recently conducted a study about headache memory loss and found that people who suffer from cluster headaches are likely to experience more memory issues and mood disturbances. This particular study involved 11 individuals with episodic cluster headaches, 11 with chronic cluster headaches and 11 people who did not experience cluster headaches.3 These research findings were significant and showed that people who suffer from cluster headaches have decreased memory, poorer moods, and decreased quality of life.4 The findings reinforced similar studies performed previously, suggesting that medication and psychotherapy may be able to help cluster headache patients with the disabling nature of their condition.3
Short Term Memory Loss Test
When a person who experiences cluster headaches seeks medical attention, the physician will likely begin the consultation by conducting a physical exam to check for strength, sensation, and coordination abnormalities. The doctor may also ask short term memory loss test questions to evaluate the patient’s mental functioning. It is very important for patients to be honest about any observed changes in their memory abilities to pursue an effective treatment strategy.2
To test one’s ability to remember recent ideas and events at home, there are various short term memory loss tests available online that involve a series or repeated images or words that require quick recall. While these types of tests are no substitute for a medical diagnosis, they can help individuals monitor memory ability over time to determine whether cluster headaches are to blame for unexplained and sudden memory loss.2
References for Understanding the Headache-Memory Connection
2. Mayo Clinic. Cluster Headache. Retrieved on August 22, 2019 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cluster-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20352080.
3. National Headache Foundation. Decreased Mood and Cognitive Function Linked With Cluster Headache. Retrieved on September 5, 2019 from https://headaches.org/2015/05/04/decreased-mood-and-cognitive-function-linked-with-cluster-headache/.
4. Torkamani, M., Ernst, L., Cheung, L. S., Lambru, G., Matharu, M., & Jahanshahi, M. (2015). The neuropsychology of cluster headache: cognition, mood, disability, and quality of life of patients with chronic and episodic cluster headache. Headache, 55(2), 287–300. Retrieved on September 5, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4354253/.
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