Bell’s Palsy or Stroke? Know the Difference.

With facial paralysis being a dominant symptom of both Bell’s palsy and stroke, knowing the difference between these two medical conditions can save your life.

Bell’s Palsy

Bell’s palsy is a form of facial paralysis that affects the seventh cranial nerve, located in the skull and traveling beneath the ear to muscles on either side of the face. This medical condition causes an interruption in messaging between the brain and the facial nerves, resulting in facial paralysis or weakness. The symptoms of Bell’s palsy range from mild to severe, affecting only one side or both sides of the face. Other symptoms of Bell’s palsy include:

  • Facial twitching
  • Facial weakness
  • Drooling
  • Eye dryness
  • Drooping at the eyelid
  • Excessive tearing
  • Mouth dryness
  • Drooping at the corner of the mouth
  • Difficulty eating and drinking
  • Impaired taste

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH), Bell’s palsy affects approximately 40,000 people in the United States each year. There is no known cause of Bell’s palsy, but the understanding is that Bell’s palsy occurs due to inflammation that affects the seventh cranial nerve. Other medical conditions may be associated with Bell’s palsy, including diabetes, Lyme disease, and high blood pressure.

Stroke

Stroke is a disease that impacts the arteries in the brain that occurs when a blood vessel that transports oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked. Stroke is a leading cause of disability and the fifth-ranked cause of death in America, according to the American Stroke Association (ASA). A stroke can affect both the right and left sides of the brain, leading to permanent damage or death.

There are three types of strokes: ischemic, hemorrhagic, and transient ischemic attack (TIA). Symptoms of stroke include:

  • Trouble speaking
  • Confusion
  • Paralysis or numbness of the face
  • Paralysis or weakness in the arm or leg
  • Blurred or blackened vision in one or both eyes
  • Sudden headache
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble walking 

Whether you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from Belly’s palsy or a stroke, you need to seek immediate medical attention. Do not wait to see if the symptoms pass – call 911 or your local emergency number right away.

For anyone who displays signs of Bell’s palsy or stroke, immediate diagnosis and treatment are essential. A doctor can examine a patient to assess any signs of upper and lower facial weakness, and an electromyography (EMG) can be done to verify if nerve damage is present. An MRI or CT scan can also be used to identify structural issues that are causing pressure on the facial nerve or to determine the cause and location of a stroke.

The bottom line is that if anyone displays symptoms of Bell’s palsy or stroke, there is no time to waste. Seek immediate medical treatment. Failure to address symptoms poses long-term health problems.

Posted on behalf of Dr. Teresa O, New York Facial Paralysis Center

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