Dealing With This Disease

First comes an earache. The second thing you notice is a numb mouth. It's hard to talk and it is hard to keep food and drink from dribbling out of your mouth. Within 24 hours, it looks like you've had a stroke: half your face is paralyzed and drooping. Not only are you a waddling baby incubator, but you no longer have that pregnancy "glow." Instead you've got Bell's Palsy. You might feel happy, but it only shows on the inside.
Paula Gillingham Bender

What causes it?
No one knows exactly how Bell's Palsy occurs, but researchers are fairly certain that it is linked to the Herpes Simplex 1 virus.

In 1996, a group of Japanese scientists reported in The Annals of Internal Medicine that they were able to isolate viral DNA from the fluid around the nerves in Bell's Palsy patients. Confirmation by a group of researchers at the University of Iowa occurred when it sought the herpes virus on the facial nerve of a patient who had died of other causes while having Bell's. These researchers were able to isolate the Herpes Simplex 1 virus.

"There may be other viruses or other etiologies, but I think we will find the Herpes Simplex 1 virus to be the most common [cause]," says Bruce J. Gantz, MD, of the Web site and also of the University of Iowa.

Exactly why Bell's Palsy favors pregnant women three times more than women who are not is yet to be determined. In a 1995 paper regarding ear, nose and throat (ENT) manifestations of pregnancy, Edward J. Hillman, MD, states that several theories regarding Bell's and pregnancy exist. One theory holds that edema, the increase of fluids in the pregnant woman's body, could result in the swelling of the facial nerve and surrounding tissues. That leads to the compression of the seventh cranial facial nerve and blockage of the bone through which it passes.

What can you do to prevent it?
What can a woman do while pregnant? Talk to your caregiver for specific recommendations, but some suggestions include avoiding excessive salt intake (simply salting food to taste) and drinking lots of water to help avoid bloating, which can put unnecessary pressure on the facial nerve.

For Frederique Donnan of London, Bell's Palsy happened in her 37th week. Pregnant with twins, Donnan says she first noticed an excruciating pain from the back of her neck to her ear. The next day she noticed something odd with her left eye. Once in the emergency room, the doctor decided to admit her for tests. Because her blood pressure was rising rapidly, doctors conducted an emergency cesarean section.

She was put on steroids for three to four weeks, endured several painful visits to an acupuncturist and then learned some facial exercises from a friend's mother who also had Bell's Palsy.

"Now, four years later, I still have a slightly crooked smile and my eye closes slightly when I smile or laugh," Donnan says. "I am very conscious of it but feel extremely lucky that I have recovered the way I did."

Donnan admits that on occasion she was preoccupied with her situation rather than fussing over her twins after they were born. She says she felt angry that the aftermath of having a baby, which should be a happy time, was overshadowed by Bell's Palsy.

Brenda Iraola, a 42-year-old mother of two who lives in Laurel, Maryland, came down with symptoms days before her daughter was born two years ago. Initially diagnosed with Bell's Palsy, it was later determined that she actually had shingles, which has similar, but longer lasting, symptoms.

In hindsight, Iraola offers this advice: "Women should take care of themselves when they are pregnant and take the stress off their bodies by resting when they are tired, sick and fatigued. We all know when we have had enough and yet we keep pushing ourselves to get things done. We all say that we'll take a break when we finish this or that chore."

Iraola says she never took a break. She always felt she could handle the pressure. Two years later, she is still undergoing therapy to help recover the facial movement. By the end of 2001, she hopes to have the 80 percent facial movement her therapists have promised.

For more information regarding Bell's Palsy, talk to your caregiver or visit Also know that there are clinics with specially trained therapists throughout the United States (except for Alaska and Hawaii)

Tags: disease

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