Here’s what we know about Bell’s palsy

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - LIND­SEY BEVER

In a re­cent in­ter­view with Van­ity Fair, ac­tress and hu­man­i­tar­ian An­gelina Jolie opened up about her per­sonal health strug­gles — threats of can­cer that led her to the de­ci­sions to have a pre­ven­tive dou­ble mas­tec­tomy and then to have her ovaries re­moved. She said she de­vel­oped hy­per­ten­sion and Bell’s palsy, a con­di­tion she said had caused her face to droop on one side.

What is Bell’s palsy, a con­di­tion that af­fects about 40,000 other peo­ple in Amer­ica each year? Although alarm­ing, the con­di­tion is not as scary as it may seem.

“Most peo­ple will go through life with­out hav­ing a Bell’s palsy,” Lyell Jones Jr., a neu­ro­mus­cu­lar neu­rol­o­gist at the Mayo Clinic, told the Wash­ing­ton Post. “But for most pa­tients who have it — whether or not they get treat­ment for it — they tend to do very well, and most pa­tients will have a com­plete re­cov­ery.”

Ralph Nader, Roseanne Barr and Ge­orge Clooney have bat­tled the con­di­tion.

“It was the first year of high school, which was a bad time for hav­ing half your face par­a­lyzed,” Clooney told Larry King in 2006 about the time he had Bell’s palsy.

“It’s a weird — it’s one of those things, I re­mem­ber what hap­pened,” Clooney said. He said he had been watch­ing a film called “The Pride of the Yankees,” which fol­lows the life of Lou Gehrig. “And he’s try­ing to pick up a bat and it falls out of his hand. And the next day we were sit­ting in church and I was in the back of the pew and my tongue was numb. And then we would al­ways go out to din­ner, go up to Frisch’s Big Boy, which is, you know, that’s where ev­ery­body went for lunch af­ter church, af­ter Mass.

“And I was drink­ing and milk was pour­ing out of my mouth. And I thought ‘Oh, my God, I have Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease.’ Be­cause you know, I wasn’t the bright­est kid, and eventu- ally, your eye and ev­ery­thing gets par­a­lyzed.”

Bell’s palsy, a sud­den but tem­po­rary fa­cial paral­y­sis, oc­curs when the nerve that con­trols the mus­cles on one side of the f ace be­comes in­flamed or swollen, mak­ing them too weak to move, ac­cord­ing to a fact sheet from the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Neu­ro­log­i­cal Dis­or­ders and Stroke (NINDS). Though the ex­act cause is not known, it has been linked to vi­ral in­fec­tions, such as the cold sore virus (her­pes sim­plex), res­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses or the flu, ac­cord­ing to the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic lists the symp­toms as: • Rapid on­set of mild weak­ness to to­tal paral­y­sis on one side of your face — oc­cur­ring within hours to days

• Fa­cial droop and dif­fi­culty clos­ing your eye or smil­ing •Headache, drool­ing • Pain around the jaw or in or be­hind your ear on the af­fected side

• In­creased sen­si­tiv­ity to sound on the af­fected side • A de­crease in your abil­ity to taste • Changes in the amount of tears and saliva you pro­duce

Jones, the neu­rol­o­gist at the Mayo Clinic, said due to the sud­den on­set of fa­cial weak­ness, the pri­mary thing Bell’s palsy pa­tients fear is a stroke. “And, to be hon­est, you do have to do a pretty care­ful clin­i­cal eval­u­a­tion to make sure that it’s not some­thing else be­sides a Bell’s palsy,” Jones said.

The NINDS states that mild cases tend to go away on their own within sev­eral weeks; in other cases, some steroids can help re­duce in­flam­ma­tion and swelling in the nerve, and some an­tivi­ral med­i­ca­tions can help fight an un­der­ly­ing virus. Phys­i­cal ther­apy or acupunc­ture “may pro­vide a po­ten­tial small im­prove­ment in fa­cial nerve func­tion and pain,” ac­cord­ing to the NINDS fact sheet.


Ge­orge Clooney and An­gelina Jolie have both had Bell’s palsy.

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