Oct 1, 2007 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Bell's Palsy

Am Fam Physician. 2007 Oct 1;76(7):1004.

See related article on Bell's palsy.

What is Bell's palsy?

Bell's palsy is a paralysis of the muscles on one side of the face. It usually develops over one to three days, and then slowly improves or completely goes away in one to three months. Most people with Bell's palsy recover, but some are left with weakness on one side of the face. It is most common in adults in their 40s, but it can occur at any age.

What causes Bell's palsy?

It is caused by swelling of the facial nerve. The facial nerve controls muscles on the side of the face, the flow of tears, and the ability to taste. There are two facial nerves, one for each side. Bell's palsy only affects one facial nerve. The exact cause of the swelling is not known, but some doctors think that herpes simplex virus type 1 (the same virus that causes cold sores) may play a role. Other diseases can affect the facial nerve, but these diseases usually have other symptoms that don't occur with Bell's palsy.

How is Bell's palsy treated?

Treatment usually includes steroid pills (such as prednisone) and an antiviral drug; you will usually take these for one to two weeks. If you start taking medicines within three days of the start of your symptoms, the chances of complete recovery are better.

Where do I get more information?

Talk to your doctor. If you develop symptoms of Bell's palsy, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Treatment works best when it is started early, and your doctor may also want to test for other diseases that cause facial nerve problems.

The National Institutes of Health Web site has information about Bell's palsy at http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/bells/bells.htm.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

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