Angelina Jolie revealed in a Vanity Fair interview that she developed Bell’s palsy last year, causing paralysis on one side of her face. This condition can come on suddenly, but tends to resolve itself within weeks to months. (Jolie has since recovered.)
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The cause of Bell’s palsy is sometimes described as unknown, but it may result from a viral infection that flares up and irritates a nerve that connects your brain to the muscles of your face. Men and women can both get it, but you’re at higher risk if you are pregnant or have diabetes. High blood pressure, which Jolie had, can also make you more likely to develop Bell’s palsy.
Bell’s palsy usually gets better with time for mild cases, but it’s still a good idea to seek treatment. Anti-inflammatory and antiviral drugs help in some cases. Physical therapy can help the muscles of your face to recover, and if your eye doesn’t properly close, you may need artificial tears or other treatments to protect your vision.
For her part, Jolie says acupuncture helped her to recover, and a review of acupuncture for Bell’s palsy found that it seemed to help in some cases — but the available studies are of low quality, so colour me sceptical.
A stroke can also result in a half-paralysed face, so don’t shrug off this symptom. If you do have a stroke, time is brain: The faster you get treatment, the less likely you are to suffer long-term damage. Emergency room doctors can tell the difference between Bell’s palsy and paralysis from a stroke, so make sure to get checked out. As a reminder, your mnemonic for stroke symptoms is FAST:
- F: Facial numbness or weakness, especially on one side
- A: Arm numbness or weakness, especially on one side (raise both arms like a zombie; are they level?)
- S: Slurred speech or difficulty speaking
- T: Time to call 000