Migraine Patients May Face Facial Paralysis Risk

Bell's palsy risk much higher in migraine patients, suggesting link between the conditions

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Migraine patients may have another headache to worry about. Migraines may be connected to a treatable type of facial paralysis.

A research group from Taiwan found that people who had migraines were nearly twice as likely as those without migraines to have Bell's palsy.

"Our study also suggests that these two conditions may share a common underlying link," said lead study author Shuu-Jiun Wang, MD, of the National Yang-Ming University and Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan, in a press release.

That underlying link could lead to a better understanding of and better treatments for migraines and Bell's palsy, these researchers noted. They called for further research on the topic.

Migraines are painful headaches that may be accompanied by throbbing or pulsing, often on one side of the head. They can be triggered by stress, lack of food or sleep, anxiety, exposure to light or hormonal changes (in women), according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Migraines are two to three times more common in women than men.

Dr. Wang and team studied two groups of 136,704 people aged 18 and older for about three years. One group of patients had migraines. The other group did not.

During the study, 671 patients who had migraines were diagnosed with Bell's palsy. In the group without migraines, 365 were diagnosed with the condition.

Bell's palsy is a type of paralysis of the face. Often, it affects one side of the face and causes twitching, paralysis, drooling and changes in the ability to taste. Treatment can range from physical therapy to medication, depending on the doctor's assessment of the patient. Recovery usually begins in about two weeks. Most patients return to normal function of their face in three to six months, the NIH reports.

Dr. Wang and team said the migraine patients faced double the average risk of Bell's palsy.

Nerve inflammation after a viral infection is believed to be the most likely cause of Bell's palsy. The research team suggested that migraines may also leave head and face nerves inflamed, contributing to Bell's palsy.

"However, whether migraine per se or the frequency of migraine attacks contributes more to the development of Bells palsy remains uncertain," Dr. Wand and team wrote.

Stephen D. Silberstein, MD, and Mauro Silvestrini, MD, of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, wrote an editorial about this study.

"The results of this study have several implications," they wrote. "Besides suggesting a role for migraine as a risk factor for Bell's palsy, the authors raise a number of hypotheses about the presence of common mechanisms underlying both diseases. The possibility that inflammation, infection and [blood vessel] changes may be implicated in sustaining the association between migraine and Bell's palsy is worthy of further investigation to obtain insight about new therapeutic strategies."

The study and the editorial were published Dec. 17 in Neurology.

Grants from the National Science Council of Taiwan, Taipei Veterans General Hospital and several other sources funded the research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 17, 2014
Last Updated:
December 19, 2014