Can Bell's Palsy Be Caused By Stress?

Bell's palsy is a neurological condition that causes facial muscle weakness on one side of the face. At its worst, it can even result in a complete paralysis of the facial muscles. The exact causes of the diseases are unknown and multiple theories exists. Although there is some evidence suggesting the potential link between physical stress and Bell's palsy, the relationship is not crystal clear. In this blog, we will explore the contribution of stress to Bell's palsy.
Frederika Malichová

Frederika Malichová

Neuroscientist at the University Of Cambridge.

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Can Bell's Palsy be caused by stress?

Bell's Palsy is also known as an acute facial palsy of unknown cause. It is a cranial neuropathy leading to face muscle paresis (weakened muscle movement) or complete paralysis on one side of the face [1].

The exact cause of the condition has not been determined yet, however, it is often associated with factors such as viral infections, trauma, diabetes, hypertension or pregnancy [1, 2, 3, 4].

In addition to this, stress and the onset of Bell's Palsy have been linked. For instance, a study found that 76.9% of patients with Bell's palsy felt physically tired before the onset of the condition [5]. This suggests a potential link between physical stress and Bell's palsy.

Further, the link between psychological stress and Bell's palsy is also a point of research. Although in one study 51.9% of patients with Bell's palsy reported psychological stress, further evaluation did not reveal a high level of this psychological stress. However, another study found that 35% of patients with Bell's Palsy experienced intermediate or high psychological stress on their first visit. According to the study, as the patients recovered, the psychological stress was reduced [6]. Therefore, the strength of the relationship between psychological stress and Bell's Palsy is not conclusive.

While there is some evidence suggesting the link between physical stress and Bell's palsy, the evidence for the link between psychological stress and Bell's Palsy is less consistent. Therefore, more research needs to be done to fully understand the relationship between stress and this neurological disorder.

Bell's Palsy: An Overview

Bell's Palsy is a neurological condition which affects the nervous system in particular the facial nerve. In this condition, the patient experiences facial weakness which may lead to partial or complete facial paralysis on one side of the face. The affected individual may have difficulties with smiling or problems with keeping the eye on the affected side open [4, 7].

Bell's Palsy is the most common cause of facial nerve paralysis and it affects approximately 11.5-53.3 per 100 000 individuals a year across different populations and age groups [4, 8, 9].

Although the exact cause of Bell's palsy is unknown, it is believed to be associated with viral or bacterial infections like Lyme disease. The reasoning behind this assumption is that these infections may cause inflammation, swelling or even compression of the facial nerve leading to the condition.

Viral infections causing Bell's Palsy are for instance infections caused by herpes simplex virus, Epstein-Barr virus, human immunodeficiency virus or hepatitis B.

Environmental risk factors leading to Bell's Palsy are physical trauma, sleep deprivation or even autoimmune conditions [4, 8].

In case you are experiencing symptoms of Bell's Palsy contact your healthcare provider!

What is stress?

Stress is a physical or psychological state of your mind, brain and body. It is a normal biological reaction caused by a challenge or demand for instance a dangerous situation. Such a situation requires your body to prepare and act in response to it [9, 10].

Stress causes your body to release certain hormones for example cortisol, estradiol or progesterone. These hormones can for instance increase your blood pressure, heart rate or blood glucose levels. The response of releasing hormones is referred to as the "fight or flight" response [9].

Stress can be short-term or long-term and can be caused by either a single event or recurring events.

Although stress is usually perceived as a bad thing, it can be beneficial. It helps us survive in a dangerous situation. That being said, long-lasting stress can be harmful and therefore it is important to find balance [9, 11, 12]

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Frederika Malichová

Frederika Malichová

Frederika is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Cambridge, where she investigates new biomarkers for Frontotemporal Dementia and other tauopathies. Her research has been published at prestigious conferences such as the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2023. She obtained her BSc in Biomedical Sciences from UCL, where she worked closely with the UK Dementia Research Institute.