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Nonsensical texting may be only sign of stroke

Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit present a case study in which "dystexia" was the only symptom of a stroke. The patient had no trouble speaking, only texting.

More stories are surfacing of people's garbled messages revealing a stroke. Fleur Costello's husband called emergency services after she posted a nonsensical message on Facebook and was later determined to have had a stroke. She survived.
Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Shortly before midnight on a recent business trip to Detroit, a 40-year-old man sent his wife the following text messages over the course of two minutes:

"Oh baby your"

"I am happy."

"I am out of it, just woke up, can't make sense, I can't even type, call if ur awake, love you."

Concerned, his wife had him go to a hospital the next morning, where a routine bed test -- including assessment of fluency of speech, reading, writing, and comprehension -- indicated he was fine. The doctors did note a very slight slackness on one side of his face. Then they handed him a smartphone and asked him to type, "The doctor needs a new BlackBerry."

He texted, "Tjhe Doctor nddds a new bb," looked it over, and concluded that his message contained no errors. (He was also, it seems, unable to crack any BlackBerry jokes.)

Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit say this case study illustrates how "dystexia," coined during a similar case several months ago, can sometimes be the only sign of a stroke. They are presenting their report next week at the annual scientific meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in San Diego.

Because of his inability to type coherently and then see that his typing was garbled, doctors were able to diagnose an acute ischemic stroke, where a clot blocks blood supply to part of the brain. Stroke-related aphasia, which is when someone loses the ability to form or understand language, can be easily missed, as this case demonstrates, and the resulting stroke(s) can go on to cause permanent brain damage and death.

"Text messaging is a common form of communication with more than 75 billion texts sent each month," Dr. Omran Kaskar, lead author of the report and a neurologist at Henry Ford, said in a news release. "Besides the time-honored tests we use to determine aphasia in diagnosing stroke, checking for dystextia may well become a vital tool in making such a determination."

Kaskar also sees the time stamping of texts as a possible way to determine when a stroke begins, which could in turn determine what types of intervention and therapy make sense.