Mixed Messages

Confusing Texts, Emails Could Suggest More Than Meets the Eye

Garbled texts and email messages can indicate more than careless communication or poor spelling on the sender’s part. They could be warning signs of possible strokes and other brain disorders, according to a UT Southwestern vascular neurologist.

iPhone 5 text

Unclear text messages — a phenomenon known as “dystextia” — along with jumbled emails and other unusual patterns in communicating could signal dysphasia, which is an inability to communicate due to brain injury and 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,” says Mark J. Alberts, M.D., Vice Chair of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics. “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 something worrisome might be occurring in the brain.”

Dystextia is a term popularized by Harvard University researchers who recently wrote of 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” — alerted her husband to the potential problem.

“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 medical help, the better the chance we have at intervening and either reversing the effects of the stroke or preventing it from getting worse.”

Suspect a Stroke?

Stroke Graphic

If you’re concerned that someone is having a stroke, try this simple three-question test. If the individual has trouble doing any of these, call 911 immediately.

  1. Say a simple sentence, such as “My name is … ”
  2. Smile (Do you notice an asymmetry in the smile?)
  3. Raise both arms (Any difficulty in keeping an arm up?)