Harvard Health Letter

In Brief: Getting well after Bell's

In Brief

Getting well after Bell's

Bell's palsy — the very name stirs up some dread. Palsy is another term for paralysis, and Bell's refers to Sir Charles Bell, the 19th-century Scottish anatomist who gave the first scientific description of the condition. Another name for Bell's palsy is facial paralysis — certainly plainer but no more comforting.

Bell's palsy almost always affects just one side of the face. The mouth droops, and the eye on the affected side won't close. Understandably, people worry that they've had a stroke. The disfigurement, although usually temporary, can be upsetting.

The immediate cause is clear enough: inflammation of the nerve that controls the facial muscles (the seventh cranial nerve). Part of that nerve travels through a narrow passageway in the skull, so it gets pinched if it swells from inflammation.

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