Bell's palsy: What is it?

By YOU
31 July 2017

Bell's palsy is a condition that causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles on one side of the face.

While Angeline Jolie may be regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world, the Oscar-winning actress isn’t immune from health problems.

She’s previously been open about undergoing cancer prevention treatments after she lost her mother Marcheline Bertrand to ovarian cancer, having both a double mastectomy and oophorectomy (removal of ovaries), with the latter bringing on early menopause.

Now, in a new confession, Angelina has opened up to Vanity Fair about suffering from Bell's palsy and hypertension in the wake of her split from husband Brad Pitt.

While Bell’s palsy is a rare condition, it still affects about one in 5,000 people a year. We look into what it is, what causes it and what can be done if you develop it.

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What is Bell’s palsy?

Bell's palsy is a condition that causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles on one side of the face and is the most common cause of facial paralysis. The condition was named after Sir Charles Bell, who presented three cases at the Royal Society of London in 1829.

It’s most common in people aged between 15 and 60, affecting men and women equally. It’s also more prevalent in pregnant women and those suffering from diabetes and HIV.

Seek medical advice straight away if you or someone you are with develops sudden facial paralysis as it may be a stroke instead of Bells palsy.

Symptoms

The symptoms vary from person to person, but the weakness on one side of the face is described as partial palsy, mild muscle weakness, while no movement at all is the rarer complete palsy.

The eyelid and mouth can also be affected, making them hard to close and open. In very rare cases in can impact both sides of the face.

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Causes

The exact cause is unknown, but Bell's palsy is believed to occur when the nerve that controls the muscles in your face becomes compressed after the facial nerve becomes inflamed, possibly due to a viral infection.

The herpes virus is thought to be the most common cause but other viruses may also be responsible.

Treatment

It’s estimated that seven in 10 people with Bell’s palsy make a complete recovery, with or without treatment. Symptoms can begin to improve after about two weeks but complete recovery can take up to nine months.

Prednisolone, a type of corticosteroid, is used to reduce the swelling of the facial nerve, and eye drops and tape can be used if sufferers are having trouble closing their eyes.

Bell's palsy may reoccur in up to 14 per cent of people, especially if there is a family history of the condition. For those who continue to experience weakness in their facial muscles, two in 10 may be left with more serious long-term problems, including eye problems, difficulty with speech and a reduced sense of taste.

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