Description of a Transient Epileptic Attack (TEA)
An individual may be made aware that an attack is about to begin by a feeling of discomfort in the stomach or by the detection of a strange smell or a taste in the mouth. Others, however, will have no warning before the onset of memory loss. Very commonly, the attacks occur upon waking from sleep.
During an attack, the person is usually unable to remember things that have happened over the past days or weeks. Sometimes, the memory loss may affect events from much further back in the past. In addition, the individual often finds it difficult to retain new information and may ask the same question, such as "What day is it?" or "What are we supposed to be doing today?" repetitively. There is, however, no loss of personal identity and close friends or relatives are usually still recognised.
The physical appearance of the person is normally unchanged. Observers may, however, notice some pallor of the skin, a brief "loss of contact" or some automatic movements such as swallowing, lip smacking or fidgeting of the hands. Otherwise, the person responds appropriately to conversation and can continue with activities such as getting dressed, walking or even playing a game of golf.
The attack usually lasts less than an hour and the lost memories from the past gradually return. Much longer attacks have however been reported, sometimes continuing for several days.
As the amnesia resolves, the memories for the past gradually come back. The person may have no recollection at all of events that occurred during the episode but is often able to "remember not being able to remember". They may come round surprised to find themselves in a different situation, such as at the doctor's or lying on the sofa.
This unusual experience can be very frightening both for the person concerned and for friends or family who witness it. The first time it occurs they may put it down to "stress" or "a bad night's sleep". However, TEA attacks recur. In some people, they are very infrequent (less than one per year) whereas others experience them as often as once a week. The episodes are usually very similar to each other.
In between attacks, the person is often able to function quite normally. They may, however, notice certain ongoing difficulties with memory.