How to Tell the Difference Between Bell’s Palsy vs. Stroke

September 7, 2022

Two different conditions can cause the same problem of single-sided facial paralysis: stroke or Bell’s Palsy. In both of these conditions, symptoms can occur, like the inability to close the eye and facial drooping on the affected side. However, it’s important to know which condition is in play since the treatment for Bell’s palsy and stroke are very different.

Stroke Symptom Identification

If someone may be having a stroke, it’s important to get them to a medical professional as quickly as possible. Remembering the words “Be fast” can make recognizing the symptoms of stroke easier. Each letter stands for the following:

  • Balance – Be aware of any sudden balance loss.
  • Eyes – Watch for any vision loss.
  • Face – Look for drooping on one side of the face or an uneven smile.
  • Arms – Check for weakness on one side of the body.
  • Speech – Look for inability to speak normally or slurred speech.
  • Time – If symptoms are present, reach out to 911 immediately.

Even if you aren’t sure whether the problem is a stroke or another condition, facial weakness or drooping is serious. Ruling out a stroke is the first step to ensuring the person is treated correctly.

Difference in Symptoms

Some of the symptoms are the same between Bell’s palsy and stroke. However, others are specific to one problem or the other. Headaches, trouble eating, issues speaking, and drooling may be present with either.

If the cause is Bell’s palsy, watch for symptoms such as watering from the eye on the affected side of the face, changes in the ability to taste, sound sensitivity, and ringing ears. With a stroke, watch for trouble finding words, eyes gazing in one direction, trouble walking, and vision changes. Stroke can also cause numbness on one side of the body or face and weakness in the arms and legs on one side. Bell’s palsy never presents with weakness of the arms or legs or difficulty moving the tongue or the eyes.

Regardless of which symptoms are seen, medical attention is needed quickly. A physician may order an MRI or a CT scan and start blood tests like white blood cell count and glucose testing to rule out infections or diabetes. Additional testing may be needed to rule out Bell’s palsy or a stroke.

Treatment for Stroke or Bell’s Palsy

Further testing will be needed for Bell’s palsy and can include electromyography for testing facial nerves. Treatment may include antiviral and steroid medications. In many cases, the symptoms will resolve over several weeks to months.

Treatment for a stroke will vary based on the situation. The doctor will take health history into account when choosing the right plan. While some strokes can lead to disabilities, the healthcare workers will work on ensuring as much independence and function are restored as possible. The main goal is to get the patient back to their former lifestyle with limited disability.

Final Thoughts

Stroke is a treatable and preventable condition. Quick treatment is essential to prevent issues like disability or even death. If the problem is determined to be Bell’s palsy, the patient will be referred to an ENT physician or otolaryngologist for needed treatment.