What's Bell's Palsy? Breaking Down Angelina Jolie's Health Condition

The signs are very similar to a stroke.

Angelina Jolie revealed in a new interview with Vanity Fair that she was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy last year, a health condition that affects the facial muscles. And while the issue is relatively unheard of in the public eye, it’s more common than most might believe.

Approximately 40,000 people are affected by Bell’s palsy every year, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. While it can impact anyone at any age, it most commonly appears in people ages 15 to 40 years old. Singer Carnie Wilson and actors George Clooney and Pierce Brosnan have previously dealt with the condition.

The health disorder causes a disruption in messages from the brain to the facial muscles. This can lead to weakness or paralysis in that area, impacting a person’s smile as well as making their eye resistant to closing. It typically occurs on one side of the face, but there have been cases reported where it happens on both, Today.com reported.

Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes the disorder. Some physicians theorize it can be attributed to a viral infection, but there’s hardly definitive data to support this hypothesis. Thankfully, the condition is temporary in most cases. Symptoms typically start to improve in a few weeks to a few months, and according to the Mayo Clinic, rarely recur or affect people for a lifetime.

Jolie told Vanity Fair that she credited acupuncture for helping her recover from the condition. There’s little to no scientific evidence that suggests the therapeutic tool can help with Bell’s palsy symptoms, but some physicians say the process can be a beneficial supplement for some patients.

“Acupuncture is based on thousands of years of practice and the thought is that it can help with pain conditions,” Dr. Charles Kim, an assistant professor in rehabilitation medicine at NYU Langone Health, told HuffPost. “You should be evaluated by a doctor to determine the best treatment path.”

Kim, who is a medical acupuncturist, has used the technique on some of his own patients with Bell’s palsy at NYU to help aid in the recovery process should they feel that’s a good option. He also says steroids and other antiviral medication will likely be used for abating symptoms and treatment.

Bell’s palsy can sometimes be hard to spot given how it manifests. In fact, the onset signs of the condition, like facial paralysis, are similar to a stroke or other neurological issues, according to Kim. That’s why he recommends taking quick action if you’re experiencing these symptoms.

“Don’t just assume you have Bell’s palsy over something more serious,” Kim warned. “If you have symptoms like that, go to the emergency room to get those conditions ruled out.”

If you are diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, it can be challenging, but Kim says the health issue is hardly life threatening. Bottom line? Don’t fret about it too much.

“It does occur and it is something that needs to be medically check out, but the prognosis is pretty good,” Kim said. “For the most part, it isn’t devastating.”

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