When Elena Sheppard, 35, was first told that she was pregnant with twins, she was thrilled. Her pregnancy went by fairly smoothly for the most part. However, she woke up in early June 2022 feeling like something was “wrong” – not with her twins, but with herself. According to Good Morning America, Elena felt like her mouth was numb or weak. By the end of the day, she was experiencing partial facial paralysis on one side of her face. Eventually, after pursuing care, Elena was given a diagnosis: Bell’s palsy.
In many cases, Bell’s palsy symptoms offer manifest quickly, within 48-72 hours. After symptom onset, many people recover within a few weeks, with a large majority of people feeling fully recovered after about six months. In Elena’s case, she is still experiencing some lingering symptoms: a teary eye, difficulty blinking, and a semi-paralyzed lip on the affected side of her face.
Despite her diagnosis, Elena is living happily with her husband and her two sons, Lyle and Casper. At some points, she feels a bit overwhelmed, wondering if and when the paralysis will fade. But in the meantime, she hopes that raising awareness will help others. Pregnant women have around 2-4x higher risk of developing Bell’s palsy than other groups. Elena wants people to be aware of how the body can change and normalize these changes.
About Bell’s Palsy
Also known as idiopathic facial palsy, Bell’s palsy is a neurological disorder of the 7th cranial facial nerve. Bell’s palsy is non-progressive, meaning it doesn’t progress past temporary facial weakness or paralysis. It is also unilateral, affecting only one side of the face. This condition occurs when the nerve is either compressed or doesn’t receive enough blood supply. Genetic predisposition, immune disorders, and certain viruses have all been linked to Bell’s palsy. Typically, prior to paralysis, people may experience a mild fever, neck stiffness, pain behind the ear on the affected side, and unilateral facial weakness and stiffness. As the paralysis sets in, other characteristics and symptoms can include:
- Loss of taste
- Increased sensitivity to sound
- Decreased tear and/or saliva production
- Difficulty closing the mouth or eyes
- Lack of corneal reflex
- Tears not caused by emotion (during recovery)
- Involuntary facial muscle contractions (during recovery)