What To Know About Bell's Palsy, A Condition That Paralyses Half Your Face

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.)

Image credit: Jordan Pix / Getty

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

Comments

    Graeme Garden, of Goodies fame, had this condition and describes it well in this article:
    http://www.bellspalsy.org.uk/graeme-garden.htm
    He's an MD as well as a comedian, so it's amusing _and_ informative!

    "The loose lips find it difficult to pronounce Bs and Ps - which makes it especially cruel of the medical profession to call it Bell's Palsy. When someone asks you what's wrong, you tend to reply 'It's Whbhell's Whphalsy!'"

    In rare cases Bells Palsy can take years to recover, i new a guy that had it for nearly two years.

    My mum also had it, we freaked out because everyone thought it was a stroke, she had numerous tests but luckily it was BP, if not they were going to prescribe blood thinners and would have created more serious problems.

    Been there, had that. BP was about 17 years ago and while it's mostly all gone, my previously Hollywood-Handsome good looks are now a bit lopsided. My GP is happy about the way it's cleared up.
    The only lasting bit is that I can no longer whistle. Those in my immediate family say this is a good thing...

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