March 20, 2013 at 6:34 PM ET
A strange text message from a loved one usually means one of three things: He's the victim of autocorrect or a pocket-dial -- or you're the victim of a drunk-text. But evidence is beginning to build that a garbled text message can signify a fourth, much more serious scenario: a stroke.
In fact, in some cases, the gibberish text may be the stroke's only visible symptom, alerting doctors to stroke-related aphasia - in other words, problems with reading, speaking and/or writing. Dr. Omran Kaskar, a neurologist at Henry Ford Hospital, is the lead author of the new report on "dystextia," which was presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in San Diego.
The first reported case of dystextia, published in December, was in a 25-year-old pregnant woman in Boston, who was diagnosed with a stroke after sending a couple of unintelligible texts to her husband.
Kaskar describes a second case in the new report: It's after midnight and a woman gets a series of strange text messages from her 40-year-old husband, who's on a business trip to Detroit. "Oh baby your;" And then: "I am happy." Two minutes later: "I am out of it, just woke up, can't make sense, I can't even type, call if ur awake, love you."
The man visited the hospital the next day, where doctors noted some slight weakness on the right side of his face, but other than that, they couldn't find evidence of neurological problems. Until, that is, they gave him a smartphone. This is what they asked him to type: "the doctor needs a new blackberry." And this is what he actually typed: "Tjhe Doctor nddds a new bb." What's more, he didn't recognize any typing errors in his message. (Obviously, we all make bizarre typos on occasion, but what sets dystextia patients apart is that they don't see anything wrong with what they've written.)
From that clue, doctors were able to determine that he'd had an acute ischemic stroke, which means a clot was blocking blood supply to part of his brain.
Strokes are one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., killing nearly 130,000 Americans every year, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it's not something that's only a problem for older adults -- a study published in October of last year shows that more adults younger than 55 are having strokes, up to 18.6 percent in 2005. Researchers expect that increase could be for reasons that won't surprise you - more Americans have diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol, all of which heighten the risk of suffering a stroke. But it could also be the result of better diagnosis.
That brings us back to text messages, which Kaskar urges neurologists to view as a useful new tool in diagnosing stroke because, for one, they come with a time-stamp, allowing doctors to figure out when symptoms may have started -- and that can be key in determining proper treatment.