DR MARTIN SCURR answers your health questions

‘Why did I suddenly start talking gibberish?’: DR MARTIN SCURR answers your health questions

Last night, I was reading to my wife and I found it came out as slurred gibberish, which frightened me. It lasted for about five minutes and then my speech returned to normal. Should I be worried?

Name and address supplied.

When something unexpected such as this happens, understandably you fear that it might happen again, but rest assured there is an explanation and treatment.

I suspect your loss of speech (or aphasia) was caused by a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), which is when, for a brief moment, part of your brain doesn’t receive an adequate blood and oxygen supply.

There was no permanent damage, your recovery is testimony to that, so we can conclude this episode was not a full stroke. 

Last night, I was reading to my wife and I found it came out as slurred gibberish, which frightened me

It was most likely caused by a small blood clot, which could have travelled from anywhere from the heart upwards, although most TIAs occur as a result of narrowing in the carotid arteries in the neck.

TIAs can also cause nausea, confusion and loss of movement on one side. The full list of symptoms is extensive, but crucially they last only minutes, or at most a few hours.

It’s vital you see your GP promptly, who will arrange tests and then probably prescribe a daily dose of aspirin to prevent further clots.

I’ve just bought a pulse oximeter and would like to know about the readings. I believe the device can tell if a person has Covid-19.

Jane Lucas, Knebworth, Herts.

Thank you for raising this question about a gadget that I think should be present in all households. A pulse oximeter measures the level of oxygen in the blood.

It’s a simple device — you can buy one for around £20 — which you clip on to your fingertip or ear lobe. 

It works by passing light through the skin; the absorption of different wavelengths of light as the beam passes through the blood indicates the amount of oxygen present.

The test is accurate and can be used to monitor lung function in patients with severe asthma and other forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia and heart disorders.

It’s a simple device — you can buy one for around £20 — which you clip on to your fingertip or ear lobe

Typically, a person’s oxygen saturation is more than 95 per cent. Levels below 92 per cent indicate a problem.

A pulse oximeter cannot be used to diagnose Covid-19. However, if someone who was previously well developed symptoms of a respiratory illness — raised temperature, cough, shortness of breath — the readings could indicate how severe this is.

If their reading was less than 90 per cent, they’d feel slightly breathless but could otherwise seem OK (what we call happy hypoxia — hypoxia referring to the lack of oxygen).

If regular monitoring (every two to three hours) showed levels were declining, medical expertise would be needed.

Along with a thermometer and an automatic blood pressure monitor, a pulse oximeter is a useful bit of kit I believe all households should own.

Write to Dr Scurr

Contact Dr Scurr with a health query, email [email protected] Dr Scurr cannot enter into personal correspondence.

His replies cannot apply to individual cases and should be taken in a general context.

Always consult your own GP with any health worries.

Diagnosing a mental illness such as depression isn’t simply about spotting that someone is unhappy.

Depressive illness is the most common psychiatric disorder that GPs see, yet few patients actually complain of the one symptom you might expect — sadness or feeling low.

The condition is so much more than that and, in fact, a very physical illness, but it’s difficult to pin down.

I prefer to use the term ‘depressive illness’ because I think it underlines the fact that it’s not the same as the mood we may call depression, a normal response when bereaved, or out of work, or when a relationship fails.

Depressive illness is the most common psychiatric disorder that GPs see, yet few patients actually complain of the one symptom you might expect — sadness or feeling low [File photo]

Many people who experience this disorder are overwhelmed with fatigue.

They’ll often admit to memory problems, poor concentration and loss of interest in things they would normally enjoy. There may be weight loss, an irrational fear of cancer, or feelings of anxiety that are out of proportion to life events.

It is easy to miss this diagnosis, especially when time is short, and those with depressive illness — who often have feelings of guilt — are even more likely than usual to refrain from complaining about how they feel.

What we’ve always needed is a biological marker — something we can test for (in the same way that we measure blood sugar as a test for diabetes) which can confirm the diagnosis.

There have been several searches, but so far such a finding has remained elusive.

Last month, a study into earwax revealed that hormone levels within the wax could be a possible marker for depression.

It’s a novel approach — but very welcome if it helps us help more patients.

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