Are Bell’s Palsy and Migraines Linked?

Migraine is perhaps the most common headache disorder with disabling symptoms across United States. According to estimates approximately 36 million people in the United States suffer from migraines. There are many causes and risk factors which makes a person vulnerable for developing migraine headaches. The primary characteristic features of migraines are severe headaches along with nausea, vomiting, photophobia and phonophobia.[1, 2, 3]

Bell Palsy on the other hand is a condition characterized by temporary weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles. The primary cause of this condition is inflammation of the nerve that controls the facial muscles. Among all cases of facial nerve palsy, 60-70% is due to Bell’s palsy. Researchers believe that the inflammation of the nerve that causes bell palsy is usually triggered by viruses. The symptoms of Bell’s palsy are sudden in onset and are at their peak within two days. Bell’s palsy can develop equally in both males and females; however, they seem to occur more in people with diabetes, cough, cold, and flu.[1, 2, 3]

Majority of the people with Bell’s palsy recover completely with treatment. A new study on migraines shows that people with this headache disorder are more at risk for developing Bell palsy.[1, 2, 3] This article deals with whether there is really a link between Migraines and Bell Palsy.

Are Bell’s Palsy and Migraines Linked?

A research done by doctors at the National Yang-Ming University and Taipei veterans Hospital has shown that people with migraine headaches are at increased risk for developing Bell palsy. Their findings of the study have been published in the journal Neurology.[3]

Studies suggest that around 40,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Bell’s palsy every year. The average age of onset is between 15 and 50 years of age. The primary symptoms of Bell’s palsy include weakness and involuntary twitching of one or both sides of the face with partial or complete paralysis. Eyelid ptosis is also quite common in people with Bell’s palsy. In mild cases, Bell’s palsy does not require any treatment and complete recovery is achieved within a couple of weeks.[3]

However, more severe cases require medical attention with physical therapy and steroids being the frontline mode of treatment to decrease inflammation and swelling. As stated above, viruses are believed to be the most common cause of Bell’s palsy. The researchers indicated that there have been numerous studies done before which have also pointed towards an association between Bell’s palsy and migraines.[3]

The latest study however pinpoints that people with migraine headaches are twice likely to develop Bell’s palsy than people who do not have migraines. For them to reach this finding, the researchers did a careful analysis of information from the Taiwan national health Insurance Database. They identified two groups of 136,000 people who were 18 years and above of which one group had a known diagnosis of migraines and the other group did not have this disorder.[3]

Both these groups were closely followed for a period of about three years. During this time frame, the researchers found out that 671 people with a known diagnosis of migraines developed Bell’s palsy while only 365 people without migraines developed it. After discounting other factors like previous history of diabetes, hypertension, and gender it was a collective conclusion of all the researchers that people with migraines were twice likely to develop Bell’s palsy than people who did not have migraines.[3]

The researchers are of the opinion that there may be a number of mechanisms at play which account for this association between migraines and Bell’s palsy. According to one theory, recurrent migraine attacks may trigger inflammation of the cranial nerves thereby predisposing the individual to Bell’s palsy. Additionally, they also opine that Bell’s palsy has been associated with ischemia in some cases especially in people above the age of 60 with known risk factors for vascular diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.[3]

Migraines are known to be associated with numerous vascular disorders raising the suspicion of ischemic mononeuropathy of the facial nerve resulting in Bell’s palsy. The lead researcher of the study explains that the association that they have found recently points that there might be a common link between migraines and Bell’s palsy. If this is identified then further research may lead to far better outcomes of treatment of both migraines and Bell’s palsy.[3]

However, researchers accept that there were certain limitations to their study. As an example, they state that all the participants in the study had active migraines. Thus the study did not include people who had inactive or dormant form of migraines and this may have had an impact on the overall results of the study.[3]

Additionally, the control group in the study may have had participants who have had migraines but did not seek treatment for it and this may have led to an underestimation of the actual risk of Bell’s palsy in people with migraine headaches.[3]

References:

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