Angelina Jolie Says She Developed Bell’s Palsy Before Divorce, What to Know

Actress Angelina Jolie is seen in sunglasses outside.
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  • Actress Angelina Jolie is talking about how stress took a toll on her health.
  • Jolie said she developed Bell’s palsy leading up to her divorce.
  • Bell’s palsy is idiopathic, meaning it’s unclear what, exactly, causes the condition.

Angelia Jolie revealed that she developed Bell’s palsy, a condition that causes unexplained facial muscle weakness or paralysis, in the months leading up to her divorce from Brad Pitt.

Jolie, 48, believes the condition resulted from the stress she was experiencing at the time. 

“My body reacts very strongly to stress,” Jolie told WSJ. “My blood sugar goes up and down. I suddenly had Bell’s palsy six months before my divorce.”

Bell’s palsy is idiopathic, meaning it’s unclear what, exactly, causes the condition.

According to Dr. Amit Kochhar, the director of the Facial Nerve Disorders Program at Pacific Neuroscience Institute, it’s believed that Bell’s palsy is triggered by inflammation in the facial nerve after a viral infection. 

“Severe stress can contribute to a weakening of the immune system, making someone more likely to experience Bell’s palsy,” Kochhar told Healthline.

What is Bell’s palsy?

With Bell’s palsy, a nerve that travels behind the ear becomes inflamed — often due to a viral or post-viral condition. 

The facial nerve will swell, and the surrounding bone can press on the nerve, leading to facial droop.

“Impaired immunity due to stress may be an exacerbating factor,” Dr. Kunal Desai, a director of neuromuscular medicine at Yale Medicine and assistant professor of Neurology at Yale School of Medicine, says.

Dr. Jon-Paul Pepper, an associate professor of otolaryngology (head and neck surgery) at Stanford Medicine, says the hallmark symptom is rapid onset of facial weakness.

“It is usually not subtle,” Pepper says. “Patients will report waking up and noticing that one side of their face does not move.”

People may have trouble closing their eyes, raising their eyebrows, smiling, and even eating and drinking. 

Damage to this nerve can also lead to hearing sensitivity, ear pain, change in taste, and dry eye.

Slurred speech, drooling, and blurred vision may occur as well. 

The intensity of facial paralysis can vary between individuals, according to Desai.

“Some individuals have a complete inability to activate the facial muscles on the affected side, whereas others may have a mild asymmetry with facial expressions,” Desai told Healthline. 

To diagnose the condition, a healthcare provider will evaluate a patient’s overall health and order laboratory and neuroimaging tests.

With Bell’s palsy, it’s important to first rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as stroke, brain tumor, trauma, infection, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Guillan-Barre syndrome, says Kocchar.

How Bell’s palsy is treated and what recovery is like

Treatment should begin within 72 hours of symptom onset.

Guidance from the American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery recommends prescribing prednisone for 10 days with or without antiviral therapy, such as acyclovir or valacyclovir.

Eye care is also important since Bell’s palsy can impact eye function.

“Lubricating eye drops, artificial tears and protective eyewear are recommended for patients with eye closure weakness,” Desai said.

Certain individuals with severe symptoms may require surgical decompression of the facial nerve. 

With this intervention, there is a high level of risk and the clinical benefit is unclear, Kocchar noted.

Many people will recover without any treatment, usually within one to two months.

“Patients with Bell’s palsy, when treated promptly, often enjoy a full recovery,” says Pepper.

A small percentage of people may have long-term or permanent muscle weakness plus unwanted facial movements (synkinesis). 

“These patients should see a specialist in managing facial paralysis such as a facial plastic surgeon and a physical or occupational therapist with expertise in facial weakness,” Kocchar said.

The bottom line:

Angelia Jolie revealed that she developed Bell’s palsy, a condition that causes unexplained facial muscle weakness or paralysis, leading up to her divorce from Brad Pitt. The condition is thought to be triggered by a viral infection and can appear suddenly. Stress may weaken the immune system and exacerbate the condition.  

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