Bell's palsy, or facial palsy, is a weakness or paralysis of the muscles that move either side of the face. Bell's palsy is a temporary neurological disorder that results from damage to one of a pair of facial nerves (usually the 7th cranial nerve) that runs beneath each ear to the muscles in the face. Facial nerves pass through the base of the skull connecting the brain to muscles of facial expression.
Damage to the facial nerves may result in a droopy appearance of the face. Although Bell's palsy is not a life-threatening condition, it can cause problems with self-esteem. Bell's palsy is the most common cause of facial paralysis worldwide.
Bell's palsy afflicts approximately 40,000 Americans each year. Bell's palsy affects men and women equally and can occur at any age, but it is less common before age 15 or after age 60. Bell's palsy occurs more often in pregnant women, in individuals with diabetes, upper respiratory ailments (such as the flu or a cold), and in individuals with conditions that compromise their immune systems, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and cancer.
For most individuals, Bell's palsy usually disappears on its own within weeks or months.
The incidence of Bell's palsy in the United States is approximately 23 cases per 100,000 persons. The condition affects approximately one person out of 65 in a lifetime. Worldwide, the incidence of Bell's palsy is similar to that in the United States. The condition is named for Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon who studied the nerve and its innervation of the facial muscles 200 years ago.
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