Dystextia: Garbled Texts May Be A Sign Of Stroke

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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 neurologists at Henry Ford Hospital indicates that we may want to pay close attention when we receive a garbled text from a loved one.

Henry Ford neurologist Daniel Miller, M.D., who was part of the research team, says that 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 highlighted the case of 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, the researchers reported, he did not recognize any typing errors.

Despite showing only slight facial drooping and no other symptoms, doctors 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.

Dr. Miller says that 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 their set of tests to diagnose a stroke.

“Besides the typical spoken or written tests we use to determine aphasia in diagnosing stroke, checking for dystextia may be an increasingly important component of our testing,” Dr. Miller explains. “In the age of hand-held technology and communication, there is an increasing amount of brain dedicated to the task of texting and isolated dystextia will likely become a more common sign of stroke.”

Dr. Miller adds that 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.


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.

Dr. Daniel Miller is a neurologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Categories: FeelWell