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Migraine Increases the Odds of Developing Bell’s Palsy

According to a recent study in Neurology, migraine may double the risk of Bell’s palsy, a nervous system condition that causes facial paralysis.

Researchers in Taiwan have found an association between the two disorders, which previously had not been linked. In the study of nearly 137,000 people, migraine sufferers were more than twice as likely as those without migraine to develop Bell’s palsy.

“This is a very new association between migraine and Bell’s palsy,” said study author Shuu-Jiun Wang, MD, with National Yang-Ming University and Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taipei, Taiwan. “Our study also suggests that these two conditions may share a common underlying link.”

Over a 3-year period, 671 subjects in the migraine group and 365 of the non-migraine group were newly diagnosed with Bell’s palsy. Patients with migraine were twice as likely to develop the disorder even after researchers accounted for other factors that could increase the risk of the condition, such as sex, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

“Infection, inflammation, or heart and vascular problems could be shared causes for these diseases,” Dr. Wang said. “If a common link is identified and confirmed, more research may lead to better treatments for both conditions.”

Dr. Wang noted that based on the results of this study, health care professionals should ask patients with Bell’s palsy about migraine, especially if they are young and unlikely to have hypertension or diabetes—other risk factors for developing the paralyzing neurological disorder.

Bell’s palsy affects about 40,000 people annually. It causes sudden weakness in the facial muscles, often on one side only. It is likely the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the facial muscles and may be the result of a viral infection. Typically, the problem resolves on its own within a few weeks, but complete recovery can take up to 6 months. In rare cases, symptoms persist.

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