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Dystextia: Garbled texts may be a sign of stroke

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Daniel Miller, M.D.
Incoherent texts are usually the result of auto-correct garble, but in some cases they can signify the result of a serious stroke.

We’ve probably all chuckled at those funny examples of “autocorrect gone bad,” where a text someone sent to a family member causes embarrassment due to its unintended meaning. And we’ve surely all received a text message that had confusing abbreviations or typing errors that make you pause and reply to the sender: “Huh?”

This phenomenon has been dubbed “dystextia” – incoherent text messaging that can sometimes be confused with autocorrect garble. Mostly, it’s harmless. But recent research by our neurology team at Henry Ford Hospital indicates that we all may want to pay close attention when we receive a garbled text from someone.

A difficulty or inability to write a coherent text message, even in patients who have no problem speaking, may become a vital tool in diagnosing a type of crippling stroke.

An incomprehensible text leads to diagnosis

The research team and I highlighted the case of one of our patients – a 40-year-old man on a business trip who showed signs of dystextia. The man had sent disjointed, incomprehensible texts to his wife but saw nothing wrong with the garble. When he was evaluated at the hospital the next day, the patient had no problem with a routine bedside test of his language abilities – including fluency of speech, reading, writing, comprehension and other factors. He showed no visible signs of neurological problems except a slight weakness on the right side of his face.

However, when asked to type a simple text message, he not only produced garble, but he was unable to see it as such. He was handed a smartphone and asked to type: “the doctor needs a new blackberry.” Instead, he texted: “Tjhe Doctor nddds a new bb.” When asked if it was correct, he did not recognize any typing errors.

Despite showing only slight facial drooping and no other symptoms, we determined the man had suffered an acute ischemic stroke, which is when a clot or other blockage cuts off blood supply to part of the brain. Such strokes usually result in some form of physical impairment and can be fatal.

This illustrates how dystextia may be the only symptom of stroke-related aphasia – a partial or sometimes total inability to form or understand language – and with further research, the ability to send a coherent text message may be something that doctors add to our set of tests to diagnose a stroke in someone.

In the age of hand-held technology and communication, there is an increasing amount of brain dedicated to the task of texting so it makes sense that isolated dystextia will likely become a more common sign of stroke.

Since texts are time-stamped, they may also provide vital clues to the onset of stroke symptoms which will allow doctors to safely guide stroke treatments and interventions.

A difficulty to write a coherent text message, even in patients who have no problem speaking, may help diagnose a stroke, says Daniel Miller, M.D.

Dr. Daniel Miller is a neurologist specializing in stroke and other neuro-vascular conditions. He sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. 

To learn more about your risk for stroke, take the stroke risk assessment quiz . At the first signs of a stroke, call 9-1-1.

This article originally appeared on henryfordlivewell.com, a health and wellness blog dedicated to sharing insights from Henry Ford Health System experts on managing and preventing health conditions, eating right and staying active. Subscribe today for weekly emails of our latest posts. 

This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Henry Ford Health System.

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