Garbled text messages may help doctors identify stroke victims

Garbled text messages may help doctors identify stroke victims

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Jumbled text messages could be a sign of more than distraction or autocorrect. "Dystextia" could be a symptom of a stroke.

Researchers at Boston's Harvard Medical School wrote about a case involving a 25-year-old pregnant woman texting her husband after a doctor's appointment determining the due date of their baby that led him to take her to the hospital, where she was treated for a stroke.

The stroke had left her with temporary aphasia — trouble formulating or comprehending language — which occurs in 21 to 38 percent of acute stroke patients. Her garbled texting was what researchers call "dystextia" and in this case, it acted as a warning sign of a bigger problem.

"To our knowledge, this is the first report of aberrant text messaging being the presenting sign of acute ischemic stroke," Harvard researchers wrote.

"Every where thinging days nighing," she texted him last December, just after the appointment. "Some is where!"

By the numbers
Strokes in America
  • 795,000 people suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year
  • 137,000 people are killed each year by a stroke
  • 60 percent of stroke deaths occur in females
  • $73.7 billion was the estimated cost in 2010 for stroke-related medical costs and disability
Info: Stroke Association

The man knew the autocorrect was not enabled on his wife's phone and the jibberish was out of character. He met up with her and took her to the hospital, where they determined through an MRI scan she had suffered a stroke on the right side of her brain.

Retrospectively, her obstetrician's office staff acknowledged she had had difficulty filling out paperwork for her appointment. Her voiced words had been hard to understand, but they had chalked it up to her recent head cold that left her with a soft voice.

Though doctors did not solely rely on her text messages to determine her stroke — she complained of numbness in her right arm, among other symptoms — they say it did help in their diagnosis and certainly in her husband noticing something had occurred.

"As the accessibility of electronic communication continues to advance, the growing digital record will likely become an increasingly important means of identifying neurologic disease, particularly in patient populations that rely more heavily on written rather than spoken communication," Harvard researchers wrote.

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Science & Tech
Celeste Tholen Rosenlof


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