"Dystextia": Stroke diagnosed with help of garbled text message

Businessman with smartphone

Harvard scientists are reporting that a case of so-called "dystextia" clued them in that a 25-year-old pregnant woman had suffered a stroke and was in need of urgent medical care.

A healthy woman who was 11 weeks pregnant was communicating with her husband via text following a routine visit to her obstetrician's office -- she wanted to let him know the baby's due date. However, the messages were incoherent.

Here was the conversation, which is reproduced in the Dec. 24 online edition of the Archives of Neurology:

Husband: So what's the deal?

Wife: every where thinging days nighing

W: Some is where!

H: What the hell does that mean?

H: You're not making any sense.

H: July 24, right?

W: J 30

H: July 30?

W: Yes

H: Oh ok, I'm worried about your confusing answers

W: But I think

H: Think what?

W: What I think with be fine

Doctors later noted the woman had trouble accurately filling out her intake form at the obstetrician's; she also recalled feeling weakness in her right arm and leg earlier that had lasted a few minutes before going away.

Emergency room doctors at a Boston-area hospital examined the woman and noted "dysphasia," a language problem caused by brain damage that caused her to say the wrong words and rearrange proper speech sounds. Also known as asphasia, the condition can result in difficulty in expressing oneself when speaking, trouble understanding speech, and difficulty with reading and writing, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

After taking a brain MRI and conducting other tests, the researchers determined the woman suffered an acute ischemic stroke. As a play on words, they dubbed her symptoms "dystextia."

About 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year, according to U.S. estimates. About 85 percent of them will experience what's called an "ischemic stroke," in which blood flow to the brain is blocked by blood clots or plaque buildup in blood vessel linings.

The woman's language rapidly improved after and she was prescribed aspirin and medication to prevent deep venous thrombosis, a blood clot which originates in the legs but can be fatal if it travels to the lungs. Her symptoms never came back and there was no evidence the episode harmed her unborn child.

The researchers wrote this case was the first to report a garbled text message was a sign of a stroke, dubbing the phenomenon as "dystexia." They note up to 38 percent of stroke sufferers may experience aphasia, so text communication may provide a new way for people to realize there's a problem.

"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," wrote the researchers.

While aphasia is most commonly seen in adult stroke sufferers, the condition could also be caused by a brain tumor, infection, head injury or dementia that damages the brain.

"The main stroke warning signs with respect to texting would be unintelligible language output, or problems reading or comprehending texts," study author Dr. Joshua Klein, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, told Reuters. However, he noted not everyone who sends a confusing text message needs urgent medical care.

"Many smartphones have an 'autocorrect' function which can introduce erroneous word substitutions, giving the impression of a language disorder," said Klein.