Angelina Jolie’s diagnosis: What is Bell’s palsy?

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Angelina Jolie recently opened up to Vanity Fair  about  her latest health issues: high blood pressure and Bell’s palsy.

Jolie has always been open with her health and the decisions she’s made to protect herself from breast cancer.

Breast cancer and high blood pressure are household names.

But many fans are wondering – what is Bell’s palsy?

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke  (NINDS) it’s a “form of temporary facial paralysis resulting from damage or trauma to the facial nerves.”

Scientists aren’t sure what causes the damage in some cases, but many believe that viral infections such as viral meningitis or the common cold sore virus are to blame.

 

Here are a few other health concerns Bell’s palsy has been associated with:

  • Influenza or a flu-like illness
  • Headaches
  • Chronic middle ear infection
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Tumors
  • Lyme disease
  • Trauma, such as skull fracture or facial injury.

While the disease is not extremely common – usually around 40,000 people in the U.S. are affected each year – it can range in severity from mild weakness in the face to full paralysis.

Here are a few other symptoms to watch for:

  • Twitching
  • Weakness or paralysis on one or (rarely) both sides of the face
  • Drooping of the eyelid and corner of the mouth
  • Drooling
  • Dryness of the eye or mouth
  • Impairment of taste
  • Excessive tearing in one eye

According to the NINDS, “Most often these symptoms, which usually begin suddenly and reach their peak within 48 hours, lead to significant facial distortion.

Other symptoms include pain or discomfort around the jaw and behind the ear, ringing in one or both ears, headache, loss of taste, hypersensitivity to sound on the affected side, impaired speech, dizziness and difficulty eating or drinking.”

“Beyond the cosmetic impact, the main feared complication is inability to close the eyelid, which may lead to the eye drying out and irreversible loss of vision. Taping the eyelid closed and night and using eye lubricants can mitigate this phenomena,” said Dr. Vinod Krishnan, a neurologist with St. Elizabeth. “Alternative therapies such as physical therapy, biofeedback, acupuncture, etc. are not well studied or supported by well-designed clinical trials, but may have some role in recovery in certain individuals.”

Fortunately for Jolie, the NINDS indicates that  most individuals begin to get better within 2 weeks after the initial onset of symptoms and most recover completely, returning to normal function within 3 to 6 months.

“The probability of recovery is inversely proportional to the severity of the lesion. That said, the vast majority of individuals will have significant improvement over a period of weeks to months (especially if not a ‘complete’ paralysis),” said Dr. Krishnan.  “The mainstay of therapy is to initiate steroids as soon as possible after symptom onset for a short time.”

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