Bizarre texts could be sign of stroke or other health problems

Speaking gibberish has long been known to be a telltale sign of a stroke, but how about sending nonsensical text messages? It turns out, those can also be a key indicator of a life-threatening loss of blood supply to the brain—a newly recognized phenomenon called dystextia.

After receiving a series of befuddling texts from his 25-year-old pregnant wife regarding her due date, a worried husband recently brought her to Brigham and Women’s Hospital where sure enough, neurologists diagnosed a stroke; they reported the case in this week’s issue of the journal Archives of Neurology.

Here’s a sample of the texting transcript between husband (h) and patient (p). The phone’s auto-correct function had been turned off, which explains the misspellings.

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H: So what?s the deal? P: every where thinging days nighing P: Some is where! H: What the hell does that mean? H: You?re not making any sense. H: July 24, right? P: J 30 H: July 30? P: Yes H: Oh ok. I?m worried about your confusing answers P: But i think H: Think what? P: What i think with be fine

“The word dystextia has been used before in the medical literature to describe someone having a migraine headache who is having trouble coordinating fingers to make appropriate texts,” said Dr. Joshua Klein, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s. It’s also been used to describe arm weakness from a previous stroke that has rendered someone unable to tap out legible words.

But this is the first reported case of dystextia that Klein knows of to describe the aphasia that occurs in 20 to 40 percent of stroke patients. The nonsensical texts were the first warning signs that were caught, though looking back the woman had also had trouble filing out her medical forms in the doctor’s office earlier that day.

Her doctor’s probably didn’t pick up on her strange speech patterns because her voice was hoarse due to a cold.

“Since so much communication is shifting from verbal to electronic communication, I think it’s important to take note if a loved one starts sending text messages that don’t make sense,” Klein said. “It could be a sign of a stroke or of other brain problem affecting language areas of the brain.”

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