- What Are Bell's Palsy and Stroke?
- Bell's Palsy vs Stroke
- Symptoms and Signs
What are Bell's palsy and stroke?
Bell's palsy and strokes are two medical conditions that start in the brain. To the average person, the signs of Bell's palsy look a lot like a stroke's symptoms, but they are vastly different. Bell's palsy is caused by damage to a single nerve, whereas a stroke is caused by a lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.
What is Bell's palsy vs. stroke?
Although they both begin in the brain, they affect different parts of the body and brain. While Bell's palsy is alarming, a stroke is a medical emergency that needs professional attention right away. It's important to understand the difference between Bell's palsy and a stroke so you can respond to each situation in the best way possible.
What is bell's palsy?
Bell's palsy is a type of temporary muscle weakness or paralysis (palsy) in the face. This makes parts of the face droop. It affects one side of the face most commonly, but on rare occasions, it can affect the entire face. When you have Bell's palsy, you may have trouble closing one eye, have trouble smiling, or notice a drooping eyelid.
Bell's palsy can happen to anyone, but it most commonly affects people between the ages of 15 and 60. It affects both men and women equally.
What is a stroke?
A stroke happens when a blood vessel leading up to or inside the brain is blocked by either a clot or a rupture. This is a medical emergency because it causes a part of the brain to stop receiving oxygen and nutrients from the blood. It's estimated that 800,000 people in the U.S. experience a stroke each year.
Different types of strokes have different causes:
- Ischemic Strokes are caused by clots that prevent blood from reaching the brain. These account for 87% of all strokes.
- Hemorrhagic Stroke happens when a weakened blood vessel ruptures. Two types of weakened blood vessels lead to these kinds of strokes, aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations (AVMs).
- Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is considered a mini-stroke and is caused by a temporary clot. This kind of stroke is a major warning sign that a more serious attack is possible.
- Cryptogenic Stroke is a block in a blood vessel leading up to the brain. Strokes that have an unknown cause are also considered Cryptogenic.
- Brain Stem Stroke is a stroke that happens in the brain stem. This affects both sides of the body and can leave a person in a "locked state", which causes an inability to speak or move below the neck.
What are the symptoms and signs of Bell's palsy vs. a stroke?
This is where a lot of confusion comes in because, at first glance, Bell's palsy appears to have the same symptoms as a stroke. The facial paralysis it causes is a similar symptom to those of a stroke.
Symptoms of Bell's palsy
The symptoms of Bell's palsy come on suddenly and worsen over the first 48 hours. These are the most common symptoms:
- Loss of feeling in your face
- Jumbled movements of the muscles that control the face. For instance, you might have trouble blinking or smiling.
- Extreme sensitivity to sound in the affected ear (hyperacusis)
- No sense of taste on the first two-thirds of the tongue
- Trouble or inability to close the eye on the affected side of your face.
Symptoms of a stroke
Each second counts when it comes to recognizing and responding to a stroke. Acting quickly will lessen the amount of brain damage caused by the lack of oxygen and can even save a life.
These are the most common symptoms of a stroke:
- Sudden weakness or numbness in your face, arms, or legs, especially if it's on one side of the body.
- Difficulty speaking, comprehending, and understanding speech.
- Trouble seeing out of one or both eyes suddenly.
- Sudden dizziness and trouble with coordination that affect walking and balance.
- Sudden and unexpected severe headache
What are the causes of Bell's palsy vs. a stroke?
Not only do Bell's palsy and strokes have different symptoms, what causes them is different too. Knowing what the causes of each are will help you understand the level of severity of each condition.
Causes of Bell's palsy
Bell's palsy happens when there is damage to the 7th cranial nerve in the brain, which controls the facial muscles. What exactly causes this damage is unknown, but it is frequently connected to a viral infection .
Some common viral infections that have been connected to Bell's palsy include:
- Chickenpox and shingles (herpes zoster)
- Cold sores and genital herpes (herpes simplex)
- Mumps (mumps virus)
- Infectious mononucleosis (Epstein-Barr)
- Respiratory illnesses (adenovirus)
- Flu (influenza B)
- Cytomegalovirus infections
- German measles (rubella)
- Respiratory illnesses (adenovirus)
Causes of a stroke
Strokes are caused by a blocked or ruptured blood vessel inside or leading up to the brain. Multiple conditions can trigger this or make you more susceptible to having a stroke:
How to diagnosis Bell's palsy vs. a stroke
Diagnosing Bell's palsy does not require any specific testing. Instead, your doctor will analyze your face by asking you to move different muscles. This includes raising your eyebrows, closing your eyes, frowning, and smiling, among other things. Since there are other potential causes of facial paralysis, like a stroke, they may conduct additional testing if it's still not clear. The most common tests used are Electromyography (EMG) and CT or MRI imaging scans.
For strokes, your diagnosis is based on several factors. Doctors use multiple tests and imaging scans to assess the condition of the brain and its blood supply. This allows them to outline where the brain was injured.
Tests that are conducted include:
- Physical and neurological exams
- Medical history to see if you have a history of stroke or conditions that trigger it.
- Lab tests (blood tests) to look at blood cell count, cholesterol levels, and more.
- CT or MRI scans to obtain the location and severity of the brain injury.
- Blood flow test to determine the amount of blood flow through the affected vessel.
- Additional diagnostic tests like an Electroencephalogram (EEG) or an Evoked Response Test.
Treatments of Bell's palsy vs. a stroke
Treating Bell's palsy is vastly different from treating a stroke, and most people with it will experience a full recovery. It typically starts to clear up on its own after two weeks and is completely gone after a few months.
No one treatment regimen is recommended, and your doctor may recommend a combination of medication and physical therapy. However, doctors usually always prescribe eye-protection to prevent the drooping eye from drying out overnight.
Some common treatments for Bell's palsy include:
- Steroids like prednisone to reduce inflammation.
- Antiviral medication like acyclovir if the root cause is known.
- Analgesics for pain relief
- Physical therapy to stimulate facial nerves and muscles
Treating a stroke is much more complex, and the treatment depends on what type of stroke you've had. For an Ischemic stroke, the focus is on getting blood flow back to the brain. For a Hemorrhagic stroke, the goal is to control bleeding, reduce pressure on the brain, and stabilize vital signs.
American Stroke Association: "Common Diagnosis Methods."
American Stroke Association: "Ischemic Stroke."
American Stroke Association: "Types of Stroke."
CDC: "Stroke Signs and Symptoms."
CDC: "Conditions That Increase Risk for Stroke."
John Hopkins Medicine: "Bell's Palsy."
Mayo Clinic: "Bell's Palsy"
National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke: "Bell's Palsy Fact Sheet."
National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke: "Brain Basics: Preventing Stroke."
Piedmont Healthcare: "The Difference Between Bell's Palsy and a Stroke."
Stanford Health Care: "Treatment for Stroke."
St. Charles Healthcare: "Blood Tests to Diagnose Stroke."
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14 Warning Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke FASTStroke is a serious medical condition. If you think you or someone you know is having a stroke call 911 immediately. There are two main types of strokes, hemorrhagic and ischemic (the most common type). A hemorrhagic stroke occurs due to a blood vessel rupture in the brain. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot becomes lodged in a blood vessel in the brain, which causes a loss of blood supply to the brain, possibly causing brain tissue death. FAST is an acronym that helps people identify stroke signs and symptoms so they can act fast and call 911. Face drooping, Arm weakness, and Speech difficulty are indicators that a person may be having a stroke and it is Time to seek emergency medical treatment. Additional signs and symptoms of stroke may include weakness, difficulty walking, blurred vision, dizziness, headache, confusion, difficulty speaking, and loss of sensation. Stroke is a major cause of death and disability in the U.S. Early identification and treatment of stroke helps reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality.
Can a Person Survive a Hemorrhagic Stroke?A hemorrhagic stroke is a serious medical emergency and should be treated immediately. While survival rates are low, there are ways to improve your chances. Learn how to spot hemorrhagic symptoms, what causes them, and how they can be treated.
Heart Attack vs. Stroke
Heart attack usually is caused by a clot that stops blood flow supplying oxygen to an area of heart muscle, which results in heart muscle death. Stroke or "brain attack" is caused by a loss of blood supply to the brain (usually a blood clot) or by hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding within the brain), which results in brain tissue death. Both heart attack and stroke usually come on suddenly, produce similar symptoms, can be disabling, and can be fatal.
The classic symptoms and warning signs of heart attack are different.
Classic heart attack warning signs are chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, pain that radiates to the shoulders, back, arms, belly, jaw, or teeth, sweating, fainting, and nausea and vomiting. Moreover, woman having a heart attack may have additional symptoms like abdominal pain or discomfort, dizziness, clammy skin, and moderate to severe fatigue.
The classic symptoms and warning signs that a person is having a stroke are confusion or loss of consciousness, sudden severe headache, speech problems, problems seeing out of one or both eyes, and numbness or weakness of only one side of the body. Moreover, a woman having a stroke may have additional warning symptom and signs like shortness of breath, disorientation, agitation, behavioral changes, weakness, nausea, vomiting, seizures, and hiccups.
Recognition of stroke symptoms is vital for emergency treatment. The acronym "FAST" stands for recognition of Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and a Time for action.
If you experience the symptoms heart attack or stroke (FAST) or see them develop in another person, then contact 911 immediately.
How Can You Prevent a Stroke From Happening?Strokes occur due to the obstruction of blood flow to the brain. Some irreversible factors, such as age and family history, are likely to increase the risk of stroke. These factors cannot be modified. However, many such preventable or modifiable factors can help prevent strokes.
Is CADASIL a Terminal Illness?Cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL) is a genetic disorder that affects the small arteries in the brain, leading to stroke-like episodes, cognitive decline, and other symptoms. It can be life-threatening in some cases, but symptoms, severity, and progression of the disease varies. The exact mortality rate for people with CADASIL is not known, but a person with CADASIL on average lives for 61 years.
What Happens After a Stroke? Signs, Symptoms, TypesWhat is a stroke? Learn about the different types of stroke, as well as many symptoms like sudden numbness or weakness, confusion, vision problems, or problems with coordination. Discover causes and recovery of a stroke.
Stroke QuizTake the Stroke Quiz to learn about stroke risks, causes, treatment, and most importantly, prevention.
StrokeA stroke is an interruption of the blood supply to part of the brain caused by either a blood clot (ischemic) or bleeding (hemorrhagic). Symptoms of a stroke may include weakness, numbness, double vision or vision loss, confusion, vertigo, difficulty speaking, or understanding speech. A physical exam, imaging tests, neurological exam, and blood tests may be used to diagnose a stroke. Treatment may include administration of clot-busting drugs, supportive care, and in some instances, neurosurgery. The risk of stroke can be reduced by controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and stopping smoking.
Stroke vs Aneurysm (Differences and Similarities)A stroke or "brain attack" is caused because blood flow to an area of the brain has been cut off by a blood clot or by a weakened or damaged blood vessel (for example, head trauma). The damaged area of the brain dies, which results in loss of function like speech capabilities, muscle movement, or muscles of an extremity like an arm or leg is reduced or lost completely. An aneurysm is a weakness in an artery wall. This weakness in the wall causes the artery to widen or balloon out, and then they rupture or break open.
Stroke vs. Mini-Stroke (TIA) DifferencesA stroke occurs when a blood clot or artery ruptures within the brain. The rupture or clot causes brain cell damage or death. A mini-stroke (TIA, transient ischemic attack) is caused by brain cells that become dysfunctional over a short period. Stroke and mini-stroke warning signs of stroke and mini-stroke are the same, and include, speech problems, weakness, numbness, and facial droop. Side effects of stroke may be permanent and you may never regain full function of the parts of the body affected. Mini-stroke side effects usually resolve within minutes to a couple of days. A transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke) is a precursor for stroke because 40% of individuals who have a mini-stroke will have a stroke within a year. Treatment of stroke depends upon the type and parts of the body affected.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA, Mini-Stroke)When a portion of the brain loses blood supply, through a blood clot or embolus, a transient ischemic attack (TIA, mini-stroke) may occur. If the symptoms do not resolve, a stroke most likely has occurred. Learn the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment for a transient ischemic attack.
Who Is Most Likely to Get Bell's Palsy?Bell's palsy is temporary, unexplained paralysis or muscle weakness in your face, usually on one side. Bell's palsy is most common in people between the ages of 15 and 60 who are pregnant or who have diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity or a flu or cold or other respiratory infection.