Bell’s Palsy and a stroke may be neurological disorders affecting the face and damaging nerves responsible for facial movement, but their causes and treatment are very different. According to the American Stroke Association, an estimated 140,000 people die yearly as a direct result of stroke complications, and stroke is also the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. It is important to know the difference between Bell’s Palsy and a stroke because, with a stroke, every second without medical attention can mean the difference between life and death.
What is a stroke?
A stroke happens when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel carrying oxygen and other nutrients to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. A blockage in the blood vessel means the brain cannot get the oxygen it needs causing brain cells to die. There are a few different types of strokes:
- Ischemic stroke. An Ischemic stroke happens when a blood clot obstructs the blood flow to the brain.
- Haemorrhagic stroke. A haemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel ruptures, preventing the blood flow to the brain.
- Transient ischemic attack. A Transient ischemic attack or mini-stroke happens when there is a temporary clot. The symptoms are similar to a regular stroke, but they only last a few minutes to hours, and there is no lasting damage.
What causes a stroke?
A stroke can be caused by other health issues and not taking care of your body. Some of the medical conditions that increase your risk of a stroke are:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Being overweight
- Diabetes/Insulin Resistance
- Sickle cell disease
- Drinking too much
- Family history
- Certain genetic predispositions
You are also at an increased risk of having a stroke if you have already had a previous stroke or have had a transient ischemic attack or mini-stroke.
Why is time so important when it comes to a stroke?
Every minute someone has a stroke, 1.9 million brain cells are lost. Stroke treatments must be given within a certain window of time. Treatment available is called tissue plasminogen activator, also known as TPA, and the timing of administration is often a top priority consideration.
TPA works by dissolving the blood clots and improving the blood flow to the area of the brain that is being deprived of oxygen. Another stroke treatment option is mechanical endovascular retrieval, also known as clot retrieval. The longer someone has a stroke, the higher the risk of disability or death, which is why knowing the signs of a stroke is so important.
What are the symptoms of a stroke?
The symptoms of a stroke are:
- Trouble walking
- Trouble speaking or understanding
- Paralysis or numbness of the face, arms, or legs
- Problem with coordination
- Overactive reflexes
- Paralysis on one side of the body
- Blurred vision, double vision
- Difficulty swallowing
- Rapid involuntary eye movement
- Mental confusion
Facial paralysis is a symptom that is also present with Bell’s Palsy. To help determine if you are having a stroke or are suffering from something else like Bell’s Palsy, The United Kingdom came up with a system to help doctors and ambulance workers quickly decipher between the two, so they can quickly administer the right treatment needed.
They called this system FAST. Each letter stands for a symptom a stroke patient would be having.
- F stands for face. One side of the face drooping.
- A stands for arms. Can they hold both arms out?
- S stands for speech. Do they have slurred speech, or are they having trouble understanding words?
- T stands for time. If the patient has any of these, time is of the essence to call 911 and receive emergency medical care.
What is Bell’s palsy?
Bell’s Palsy is a temporary facial paralysis causing dropping and weakness on one side of the face. The symptoms of Bell’s Palsy are often not completely permanent, and some people have a full resolution within two weeks or longer, depending on the severity.
What causes Bell’s palsy?
The exact cause of Bell’s Palsy is not known, but scientists believe it is caused by a viral infection such as:
- Chickenpox or shingles
- Cold sores
- Genital herpes
- Epstein-Barr virus
- Respiratory illnesses
- Influenza virus
- German measles (rubella)
Even though scientists believe a viral infection is the main cause of Bell’s Palsy, it has also been associated with conditions like chronic middle ear infections, diabetes, hypertension, Lyme disease, and certain facial injuries.
How is Bell’s palsy treated?
Before treating Bell’s Palsy, the doctor must first rule out the possibility of it being a stroke. The doctor will order a few tests, such as an electromyography (EMG), to assess if there is any damage. Then they will order blood tests to see if the patient has diabetes or some infection. Lastly, they will order a MIR or CT scan to see if there is any damage to the facial nerves.
If it is confirmed that it is Bell’s Palsy and not a stroke, they will begin a steroid called Prednisone. This will increase the chances of a full recovery. There is a small window in which this drug must be given. The patient must be given this drug within a few days of the first symptom, so it is important to know the signs and symptoms of Bell’s Palsy.
What are the symptoms of Bell’s palsy?
Symptoms of Bell’s palsy are:
- unilateral facial paralysis, drooping, or weakness on one side of the face
- Change in ability to taste
- Increased sensitivity to sound on one side
- Eye and mouth dryness
- Pain in the jaw or behind the ear
- Increased sensitivity on one side of the face
- Excessive watering in one eye
Bell’s palsy vs stroke
For years people have been confusing Bell’s Palsy with a stroke. Even though they both cause facial paralysis, that is the only similarity. Bell’s Palsy is caused by the inflammation of the facial nerves, while a stroke is caused by reduced blood flow to an area of the brain. Bell’s Palsy is still a serious condition. You should immediately contact your doctor if you are experiencing facial paralysis or other symptoms.
About Index Health
Index Health is a healthcare team specialised in personalization and the root cause. Their multi-disciplinary care team is made up of physicians and nutritionists that are trained and certified in (functional) root cause medicine.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.