Bell’s Palsy


Other Known Aliases – facial nerve palsy, cranial nerve VII palsy


Definitionparalysis of cranial nerve VII that can can effect both motor and sensory function


Clinical SignificanceThis condition affects up to 20 patients per 100,000 population with no gender, race, or geographic predilection.  It is the most common cause of unilateral acute peripheral nerve palsies.  Although benign in clinical course, providers must pay close attention to differentiate between Bell’s palsy and a supranuclear lesion (stroke).  The most significant clinical difference between these two condition is the ability to raise the eyebrow and wrinkle the forehead.


History – Named after Sir Charles Bell (1774-1842), a Scottish surgeon, anatomist, physiologist, neurologist, and noted philosophical theologian who received his medical doctorate at the University of Edinburgh in 1799.  While still a student, he illustrated and published an extraordinary textbook entitled “A System of Dissection Explaining the Anatomy of the Human Body”  After graduation, he was admitted and enrolled at The Royal College of Surgeons where he proved himself to be as skilled in surgery as in anatomy. He further published two subsequent volumes of “Anatomy of the Human Body”, with his brother John (also a skilled anatomist and surgeon).  He was such a prolific teacher and professor that the faculty at the University of Edinburgh blocked his advancement and he was forced to move to London where he first opened a private school of anatomy and then took over the Great Windmill Street School of Anatomy (founded by William and John Hunter).  In 1811, he published “An Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain” considered to be the quintessential textbook of neurology.  In 1821, he published a paper entitled ” On The Nerves: Giving an Account of some Experiments on Their Structure and Functions, which lead to a new arrangement of the systems” where he described the trajectory of the facial nerve and the unilateral facial paralysis that could result.  This paper is still considered one of the classics of neurology and led to the disease bearing his name.  In 1824, he became the first professor of anatomy and surgery of the College of Surgeons in London and was knighted by King William IV due to his contributions of the advancement of medicine. 


Photograph of Sir Charles Bell


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