Bell's Palsy and Stroke

Getty images/ stock_colors

Bell’s palsy is the most common type of facial weakness and it is often confused with a stroke. If you have been diagnosed with Bell's palsy, you most likely have a number of important questions about what to expect.

Is Bell’s palsy a stroke?

If your doctor has diagnosed you with Bell's palsy, then you don't need to worry about a stroke.

Much of the time, weakness of one side the face turns out to be Bell's palsy, but it is important for you to know that weakness of the face can be a stroke or another neurological condition. If one side of your face is weak, your doctor will examine you to check for causes of facial weakness, such as a stroke or a tumor or an infection. Your doctor will not call it Bell's palsy if she hasn’t ruled out those other more serious causes.

The biggest difference between Bell's palsy and a stroke is that if you have Bell's palsy, the whole entire side of your face should be weak, including your forehead, your eyelid, your cheek and one side of your mouth.

If a stroke causes one side of your face to become weak, you would usually expect to experience drooping of your mouth, drooping of your cheek and trouble opening or closing your eyelid, but you would most likely have some ability to move your forehead. When stroke causes weakness of one side of the face, there are usually other symptoms such as dizziness or headaches or arm weakness. A stroke is usually much more serious than Bell’s palsy because a stroke is a brain problem, while Bell’s palsy is caused by a temporary nerve problem.

Should I see a doctor?

If any part of your face becomes weak or droopy, you should see a doctor. Even if you look up your symptoms on the Internet or if a friend or family member tells you that you look like you have Bell's palsy, you should still make sure to get the attention of a healthcare professional right away.

Your doctor might do some medical tests to determine whether you have Bell's palsy or another neurological problem, but sometimes it is clear that you have a simple Bell's palsy based on your detailed neurological and physical examination, and you may not need to have many medical or imaging tests.

What is Bell's palsy?

Bell's palsy is an unexplained weakness of the facial nerve, which is the nerve that controls facial movement. The facial nerve is often called the 7th cranial nerve. Bell’s palsy develops pretty quickly and it can be stressful and frightening due to the dramatic change in the appearance of the face, but it often improves on its own within a few months.

Sometimes, after an episode of Bell's palsy is largely resolved, you might have slight weakness of your face lasting for years or you might experience mild tingling of your face lasting for months.

Bell’s palsy affects one side of the face and might also cause some problems with your ability to taste food or to produce tears. Some people with Bell’s palsy experience ear pain along with the face weakness.

Bell's palsy is more common in adults than in children and it is not a sign of any serious health problem. If you have ever had Bell’s palsy, it does not mean that you are at any higher risk of stroke.

There are medications that can help speed your recovery, such as anti-inflammatory steroids, which are occasionally used for persistent or severe situations. Eye drops are the most commonly used medication for Bell's palsy, because your eye can become dry, red or itchy if you cannot close your eyelid due to the weakness. Some people use an eye patch at night to prevent irritation, but you can decide whether or not you want to use an eye patch based on your own level of eye comfort.

What causes Bell’s palsy?

Sometimes Bell's palsy is triggered by a virus, inflammation or stress. But most of the time, it is impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of Bell’s palsy. The most important thing to keep in mind is that, while Bell's palsy is not a dangerous medical condition, you do need to seek professional medical attention to ensure an accurate diagnosis and to prevent serious irritation of your eye.