By Rainier Ehrhardt, Getty Images
Facebook photos, like those in this collage at a Facebook office, could help doctors diagnose some patients.
By Kim Painter, USA TODAY
Doctors check your blood pressure, heart rate and reflexes -- but some also may have good reasons to check your Facebook photos, say doctors from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. They recently used Facebook pictures to help figure out what caused a woman's stroke.
The 56-year-old woman didn't have classic stroke risk factors, such as smoking or high blood pressure, and she was fairly young, says neurologist Manoj Mittal. So doctors wanted to dig for possible causes.
Some clues soon arose: "I saw her and noticed her eyelid was drooping on one side," says Mittal. Also, one of her pupils was smaller than the other, according to a report published in BMJ Case Reports. Neurologists know those signs can be linked with an internal tear in a carotid artery -- one of the big blood vessels that go through the neck and carry blood to the brain. A torn artery also can become blocked and cause a stroke.
But the woman and her husband were not sure that her slightly drooping lid or smaller pupil were new, Mittal says. So, he did what he says neurologists have been doing in such cases "for about 100 years:" he looked at the picture on her driver's license. But it didn't settle the question, he says, and that's pretty typical: "The pictures are very small. They also can be old and worn out. "
So, he says, "I asked if she had any pictures of herself on her phone." She didn't -- but did have Facebook pictures. "She logged into her Facebook page and she had a good sample of pictures. We found several recent photographs that did not show the droopy eyelid."
With that information in hand, Mittal asked some more questions and found that just two days earlier, the woman had seen a chiropractor and had her neck manipulated -- something that could have caused trauma that led to her stroke and her droopy eyelid. Mystery solved.
A Facebook scan may never be part of a routine doctor's visit. But Mittal suspects it will be used in similar cases in which a little before and after photo detective work can answer a medical question. He does say doctors better be careful: "It should always be done with patients' consent. And it's best if they log into Facebook themselves and show only the picture that they want to show you."