Statins and Amnesia

Since the relationship of transient global amnesia (TGA) to statin drug use was first noted in 2000, several hundred cases now have been documented.

More are occurring every day as widespread statin drug use is aggressively promoted and, for every case of reported TGA thousands of cases of lesser forms of memory dysfunction associated with statin drug use are occurring.

But the numbers do not stop here for there is yet another even more deeply concealed group of memory ravaged patients in whom the diagnosis is almost never made - those tragic cases of short duration TGAs (SDTGA) - those episodes of transient global amnesia with duration measured in minutes rather than hours.

Transient global amnesia is the medical term for a strange form of completely unheralded disturbance of the mind in which the victim abruptly loses the ability to retain new memory. Most of these attacks have a retrograde component of memory loss going back hours, days, weeks, years and even decades into a person's life.

Any type of training received during that interval of purloined time never occurred and a school bus driver could suddenly "awaken" at the wheel of a totally unfamiliar vehicle or a pilot abruptly face instruments and a control panel never before seen. This is transient global amnesia, a rare medical curiosity before the advent of statins, but increasingly common today as some 60 million patients consume statins in this country alone.

The likelihood, even inevitability, of SDTGAs, with durations measured in minutes must be appreciated for there is no physiologic reason why such attacks can not occur. They are not mentioned in the medical literature only because no one reports them to the medical establishment.

So, if you can not always recognize a TGA, how can you measure their true frequency? How often does this "thief of memory" enter the lives of those on statins? The answer, quite obviously, is that you can not! The true cognitive impact of statins, the actual burden on society is buried in the reality that we are not precise creatures.

Imagine the confusion and panic of a pilot, on suddenly, only for a moment, losing all recall of "how to fly this thing". Abruptly he is "back on course" and in full control with only a rapidly fading memory of having been touched by a very serious problem. This sort of thing can occur in anyone whose job demands constant vigilance. The several hundred published cases of TGA are but the tip of a huge iceberg whose true size will never be fathomed.

Duane Graveline MD MPH
Former USAF Flight Surgeon
Former NASA Astronaut
Retired Family Doctor

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