Sudden onset of 'dystextia,' other garbled communications, can be signs of stroke

Stroke experts are finding that the ever-expanding digital record left by texts and e-mails can offer warning signs of possible strokes and other brain disorders, says a UT Southwestern Medical Center vascular neurologist.

Dr. Mark J. Alberts says unclear text messages – a phenomenon better known as “dystextia” – along with jumbled e-mails and other unusual patterns in communicating can be signs of dysphasia, which is an inability to communicate due to brain injury and is a common indicator of a stroke.

“What we’re looking for – whether it’s speaking, emailing, or texting – are real errors in terms of using the wrong words in the wrong way at the wrong time,” Dr. Alberts says. “Saying ‘I took my car out for a walk’ instead of ‘I took my dog out for a walk’ could be indicative of a language problem, and that can tell us that something is going on in the brain.”

Dystextia is turn-of-phrase terminology popularized by Harvard University researchers, who recently wrote in the journal Archives of Neurology about a case in which the garbled text messages of a 25-year-old pregnant woman were the first apparent signs that she had suffered an acute ischemic stroke. Her texts – which included such nonsensical phrases as “every where thinging days nighing” and “Some is where!” – alerted her husband to the potential problem.

Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 133,000 people annually, according to the National Stroke Association.

“A stroke is a medical emergency, and the best thing people can do is seek help right away,” Dr. Alberts says. “The sooner somebody having a stroke seeks help, the better chance we have at intervening and either reversing the effects of the stroke or preventing it from getting worse.”

Visit UTSW Medicine to learn more about clinical services in stroke care at UT Southwestern.

Media Contact: Jeff Carlton