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Bell's Palsy

What is Bell's Palsy?


Updated May 09, 2014

The first known case of Bell's Palsy was diagnosed in 1882 by Sir Charles Bell of Edinburgh, Scotland. The onset of Bell's Palsy is sudden and usually without warning. The key symptom of Bell's Palsy is partial facial paralysis or drooping of one side of the face, which is often accompanied by pain or general discomfort. Over 40,000 people in the U.S. are affected by this often frustrating disease.

Although much is yet unknown about this rare and mysterious disease, at least 75 percent of Bell's Palsy cases are preceded by respiratory infections.

The symptoms of Bell's Palsy often resemble those of a stroke or tumor. This is often due to the partial facial paralysis that occurs on one side of the face. In my mother's case, our family was convinced she that a stroke had occurred when we noticed that one side of her face was drooping. The possibility of a stroke or tumor must be ruled out before a definitive diagnosis of Bell's Palsy is made.

While the cause of Bell's Palsy is yet unknown, many theories about causes of this rare neurological disorder exist. The most common theory is that stress is a primary cause of Bell's Palsy. This is easy to believe in my mother's case as it occurred shortly after my father passed away following a four-month battle against pancreatic cancer. Other less likely causes of Bell's Palsy include:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Trauma
  • Toxins
  • Infections

Whether Bell's Palsy is an inherited disuse remains unclear, although it is a possibility considered by researchers.

How is Bell's Palsy Treated?

Although steroids are often prescribed as treatment for Bell's Palsy, the effectiveness of these drugs is unclear. The therapy that appears to have the most benefit for treating Bell's Palsy is eye drops due to the dryness of the eyes that occurs in Bell's Palsy patients and the inevitable inability to blink the eyes properly that accompanies the facial paralysis of this neurological disorder.

Patients suffering the effects of Bell's Palsy need to be advised to relax more to relieve the stress that may cause this disease. The majority of patients improve about 80 percent within a few weeks. Sometimes recovery takes more than three months and for some Bell's Palsy patients complete recovery never occurs. Although failure to recovery completely from Bell's Palsy is rare, my mother has never fully recovered from her bout with this disease in over nine years. The most significant way that my mother's life has been affected is her inability to drink from a glass and requiring a straw for all drinks.

Self-Help Tips for Bell's Palsy Patients

Patients can often help speed their recovery, and help prevent recurrence of Bell's Palsy, by faithfully practicing facial massage and facial exercises several times daily. These can be done at home in a mirror, or anywhere that a wall mirror is available. Massage the muscles of the face and practice making faces in the mirror even though no noticeable facial movement may occur.

What You Can Do To Help When Someone Close to You Has Bell's Palsy

If you're reading this article because you have a family member or friend who's been diagnosed with Bell's Palsy the single most important thing you can do is to offer your support. Imagine how it must feel to have one side of your face paralyzed and drooping. Give your friend or family member lots of encouragement. Offering to take care of some of the responsibilities that may be the root cause of stress in their life is a huge help. Tell your family member or friend that they are still the same beautiful person that they've always been and remind them that they will recover. You can also help by helping them learn to relax more.

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