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Bell’s Palsy vs Stroke: What’s the Difference and How to Spot it?

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Jun 04, 2021

Bell’s Palsy vs Stroke: What’s the Difference and How to Spot it?

Have you ever experienced having trouble closing one eye due to weakness of the muscles? Or sudden facial weakness? These may be signs of both Bell’s palsy and a stroke. Learn more about the differences between Bell’s palsy vs stroke and what to do if you spot them.

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What is Bell’s Palsy?

Bell’s palsy is known by several names: facial palsy, Antoni nerve palsy, and idiopathic facial palsy. Palsy, in general, is a group of conditions that cause paralysis. It is different from another condition known as cerebral palsy, which affects the entire body’s movement. 

Unfortunately, while it is known that the facial nerves are affected, the exact cause is unknown. Oftentimes, a viral infection can trigger Bell’s palsy after it becomes dormant and reactivates. Other factors such as weakened immunity, prolonged stress, inadequate sleep, and autoimmune disorders can contribute to Bell’s palsy.

To reduce swelling and inflammation of the facial nerves, doctors will prescribe medications called steroids. Treatment is most effective within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms. Even without treatment, Bell’s palsy can resolve on its own in about 3 weeks. However, there may be long-lasting weakness or some degree of paralysis if treatment is delayed.

mild stroke first aid

What is Stroke?

Stroke is a term used to describe a condition wherein part of the brain is deprived of oxygen or nutrients. Clots or cholesterol plaques from other parts of the body can travel through the bloodstream and get stuck in arteries in the brain.

When this happens, the blockage stops blood flow and the affected areas of the brain begin to deteriorate. A “mini stroke” or transient ischemic attack is a temporary blockage that is less likely to cause permanent damage. Alternatively, head trauma or broken vessels can result in uncontrolled bleeding or hemorrhage, which can also cause a stroke. 

Bell’s Palsy vs Stroke Signs and Symptoms

While Bell’s palsy vs stroke may have some overlapping symptoms, these are very different conditions. One major difference between Bell’s palsy vs stroke is that Bell’s palsy only affects the face.

As mentioned previously, the exact cause of Bell’s palsy is unknown. It can happen suddenly and affects any age, race, and gender. Fortunately, it is fairly rare and not life-threatening. The majority of people who experience Bell’s palsy recover without complications.

On the other hand, stroke is largely preventable through lifestyle changes. People with hypertension, atherosclerosis, or diabetes are more likely to develop strokes. Additionally, strokes affect more than just the facial nerve.

Because other areas of the brain and spinal cord are responsible for controlling actions of other parts of the body, a stroke in these areas can result in weakness or paralysis. Treatment for stroke is mainly to dissolve the clot that is blocking blood flow. In the case of a hemorrhagic stroke, this may include preventing re-bleeding while waiting for the blood clot to be reabsorbed. This is usually done by lowering high blood pressure using anti-hypertensive medicines.

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Key Takeaways

In summary, there are more differences between Bell’s palsy vs stroke than similarities. While both conditions may cause facial paralysis and weakness, stroke is a medical emergency. Bell’s palsy often resolves on its own and the effects are more or less temporary. In contrast, stroke can lead to permanent brain damage and even death. A key similarity of these conditions is they both require physical therapy for a chance at a full recovery.

Learn more about Stroke here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Written by

Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


Updated Jun 04, 2021

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