How Migraines May Increase Your Risk of Bell's Palsy

Understanding the Link Between Migraines and a Form of Facial Paralysis

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Do I Have Bell's Palsy?. Terry Vine/Blend Images/Getty Images

If you are a migraineur, you may be at a higher risk for developing Bell's palsy, a neurological condition that leads to facial weakness.

First...What is Bell's Palsy?

Bell's palsy causes transient facial paralysis from damage or trauma to one of the facial nerves.  Bell's palsy usually affects one side of the face. Symptoms are variable but may include:

  • drooping eyelid or corner of the mouth
  •  dry eye or mouth
  • twitching or weakness of the facial muscles
  • loss of taste
  • excessive tearing of one eye.

The symptoms of Bell's palsy can resemble a stroke, which is a very serious, emergent health condition that results from a blood clot in the brain or less commonly, bleeding from an artery in the brain. Bell's palsy, on the other hand, is a benign, usually reversible condition. Still, Bell's palsy can be emotionally distressing, as it affects your appearance (some more than others).

Both men and women are affected equally by Bell's palsy. Women who are pregnant, the elderly, and people with diabetes and hypothyroidism are at a greater risk of developing Bell's palsy.

Scientists are not quite sure what causes this form of temporary facial paralysis. A virus may be the culprit, but it's really unclear at this time.

Treatment of Bell's palsy depends on the severity of the condition. Your doctor may prescribe a steroid, like prednisone, to treat the condition.

Physical therapy and facial nerve massage may also help with recovery. Rarely, surgery is needed.

The good news is that the majority of people recover with or without treatment. Initial recovery begins about two weeks after the first symptom and complete recovery generally occurs within 3 to 6 months.

Is There a Link Between Migraines and Bell's Palsy?

In a study in Neurology, 137,000 participants—one group of migraineurs and another group of "matched controls"—were followed for an average of 3 years. The matched controls had no diagnosis of migraine, tension-type headache, or any headache disorder.

While being followed, 671 migraineurs were diagnosed with Bell's palsy compared to 365 non-migraineurs -- so patients with migraines were at a higher risk (twice as likely actually) of developing Bell's palsy than the control group. Why is that?

It's first important to understand that a link does not mean that one causes the other. Rather, scientists need to investigate the common connection between these two medical conditions. Authors of the study suggest that infection from a virus, inflammation, or a heart or blood vessel problem are possibilities. That being said, we don't know this answer until more studies are done.

Bottom Line

People who suffer from migraines may be at a higher risk of developing Bell's palsy.

What does this mean for you? Well, nothing really at the moment. But if scientists can find the common link between these two conditions, we may be able to better treat both of them.

Sources:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2016). NINDS Bell's Palsy Information Page.

Peng, K.P., Chen, Y.T., Fuh, J.L., Tang, C.H., & Wang, S.J. (2015). Increased risk of Bell palsy in patients with migraine: A nationwide cohort study. Neurology,Jan 13;84(2):116-24.

Silberstein, S.D., & Silvestrini, M. (2015). Does migraine produce facial palsy?: For whom the Bell tolls. Neurology, 84(2):108-109. 

Zandian, A., et al. (2014). The neurologist's dilemma: a comprehensive clinical review of Bell's palsy, with emphasis on current management trends. Medical Science Monitor, 20:83–90.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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