In an interview, actress and director Angelina Jolie opened up about her struggle with Bell’s palsy, a rare neurologic condition. "Sometimes women in families put themselves last until it manifests itself in their own health," she said crediting acupuncture to cure her. Most of us never heard of the disease which impacts 40,000 Americans each year. "One in 5,000 people develop Bell's palsy each year. It is classed as a relatively rare condition. In very rare cases, Bell's palsy can affect both sides of an individual's face," the Neurological Institute (NIH) reported. Jolie experienced a full recovery joining the 70 to 80 percent of patients who undergo a quick turn around. Here are 7 things to consider about this mysterious disorder.

What is it?

Bell's palsy is a facial palsy, where one side of the facial muscles are severely weakened and it causes the face to droop to one side. The facial nerve (VII cranial nerve) controls the muscle of the face and when this weakens, the condition causes multiple spasms, a drooping eyelid and causes pain around the ear. There are 7,000 nerve fibers controlling a range of facial expressions and in other parts of the body as well. They control the forehead muscles, neck muscles, the secretion of saliva and how sound is perceived. It impacts more than one area and can cause permanent venation damage.

What causes the condition?

Some researchers believe herpes simplex 1 virus, meningitis and people who have diabetes seem to be more prone to the condition.
CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus explained it further on CBS This Morning: "A nerve comes from the brain through a small hole in the skull, and when it gets inflamed, its function is compromised. And it can get inflamed, primarily, we think, through viral infection." Guillain-Barré syndrome, sarcoidosis, myasthenia gravis and multiple sclerosis may also cause Bell's palsy.

Who discovered it?

Bell's palsy is named after Sir Charles Bell, a 19th-century Scottish surgeon who discovered the nerve condition and determined it was not linked to a stroke. Bell submitted a paper at a meeting of the Royal Society in 1821 and he described the long thoracic nerve, which supplies the serratus anterior muscle and revealed lesions of the 7th cranial nerve to cause facial paralysis. Bells palsy is the diagnosis when all other possible reasons for paralysis have been diminished and when no known explanation can be found.

Most suffers are adults.

The majority of Bell's palsy sufferers are adults, but children may also get the disorder and generally recover within 12 months. The cause is not fully understood, but it may be caused by pressure or swelling of the nerve. This disorder is much more likely to occur at an elder age or in the last trimester of pregnancy according to published reports. There is no difference in the incidence of Bell's palsy between genders and races.

How is it diagnosed?

John Hopkins Medicine suggested your health care provider can diagnose Bell’s palsy by looking at your symptoms.
There are no specific tests used to diagnose Bell’s palsy. A physician will examine the individual for upper and lower facial weakness. X-rays are only essential if the doctor suspects something like a stroke. An electromyography (EMG) is used to determine the extent of the nerve involvement, blood tests to determine if Lyme disease is present and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computed Tomography (CT) may be used to determine if there is an anatomical cause for symptoms. Later the neurologist may repeat the tests to see if there's any further nerve damage.

How is it treated?

Since there is no cure for Bell's palsy, you can only treat the symptoms. Since the eye is at risk for drying, eye drops and an eye patch can be used to prevent ulcers and limit the cornea from getting scratched. Steroids like prednisolone can be used reduce inflammation. Studies have shown drugs like acyclovir is used to fight viral herpes infections and they may have a benefit in curtailing the condition. The Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology found an analysis of corticosteroid treatment "Pooled the results of four randomized, controlled trials with a total of 179 patients. Both reviews independently concluded that insufficient data exist to support the use of either or both therapies." Treating the condition in the early stages it's always advantageous. Acupuncture, massage and infrared heat therapy are becoming a solid treatment as well. Physicians may also prescribe Vitamin B6, B12, zinc and relaxation methods to relieve muscle tension and to help with chronic pain.
Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help with discomfort.

Other stars who had Bell's palsy.

Jolie is not the only one to suffer from the disease. Comedian Roseanne Barr experienced it as a child. Actor Pierce Brosnan experienced it in his youth. Sylvester Stallone was born with Bell's palsy, Katie Holmes and singer Carnie Wilson also combated the condition. George Clooney opened up about his experience with Bell's palsy as a teen. "My dad would always say, 'It's going to go away, you'll be fine, you can handle it.' But it was a tricky thing. So, you develop a better personality and learn how to make jokes about it," Clooney told Rolling Stone magazine.

Most cases of Bell’s palsy are moderate and the symptoms could disappear in a matter of weeks or months. However, if you suspect there is something amiss, seek medical advice as the disease could cause irreversible impairment to the nerves. Don't be deceived, the condition can return again. The Tampa Bay Hearing and Balance Medical Center estimated there’s a 6 to 7 percent chance for Bell’s palsy to strike a second time. You can't prevent it, but you can significantly lower your chances by keeping the immune system strong by eating healthier and executing wholesomer lifestyle changes.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad