What Is the Difference Between Cerebral Palsy and Bell’s Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy Information

If you have a child with cerebral palsy, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Bell’s palsy. The two conditions are often confused, although they’re very different in terms of their timeline, causes, and symptoms. Keep reading to understand what makes these two conditions different.

How Are Cerebral Palsy and Bell’s Palsy Different?

The word “palsy” refers to a disorder of movement, which is why cerebral palsy and Bell’s palsy may often be conflated. The two conditions are similar in that they both affect the muscles of the body, which can cause weakness and disability with movement and make normal activities challenging. However, there are some major differences between the two.

Cerebral palsy is a motor disorder that affects an individual’s movement, balance, and posture—which mostly involves the arms, legs, feet, hands, and spine. It can cause spasms, an unsteady walk, involuntary facial gestures, and issues with speech and language due to poor respiratory control.

Bell’s palsy, on the other hand, is a condition that causes a temporary paralysis or weakness of the muscles in the face, resulting in one side of the face drooping or becoming stiff. This can make it difficult to smile, blink, frown, cry, taste, and use the facial muscles in other ways.

What Are the Causes of Cerebral Palsy vs. Bell’s Palsy?

Cerebral palsy and Bell’s palsy have different timelines, and they each affect different parts of the body—but that’s not where their differences end. Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage at, during, or shortly after birth, whether from a birth injury, stroke, infection, or other problem.

On the other hand, Bell’s palsy is idiopathic, which means that the exact causes of the condition are unknown. However, doctors who have been researching Bell’s palsy for years have come up with some theories. The first is that the nerve that controls the facial muscles may become damaged or pinched by the bone that surrounds it, which renders it unable to relay messages between the facial muscles and the brain. The second—and most studied—theory is that certain viral infections can cause Bell’s palsy, including:

  • Herpes
  • Chicken pox and shingles
  • Mononucleosis
  • Rubella
  • Mumps
  • Influenza
  • Hand, foot, and mouth disease
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Adenovirus and other respiratory viruses

Finally, the third suspected cause is trauma to the face and head, including bone fractures in the face or ear, and injuries to the brain stem. This could put pressure on the facial nerves, creating paralysis.

Cerebral Palsy vs. Bell’s Palsy: Is There a Cure?

There is no known cure for cerebral palsy. Instead, patients manage their symptoms with a variety of physical, occupational, speech, nutritional, and recreational therapies. The disorder does not worsen over time, although the symptoms are unique to every individual and can change as that person ages. An individual with severe CP may require the use of special equipment to walk and might need lifelong support, whereas a person with mild CP may have an affected gait but not need any special help.

Unlike cerebral palsy, Bell’s palsy is most often a temporary condition. In fact, facial weakness or paralysis may worsen over the first few days but can improve in as little as two weeks. It typically resolves within three to six months. What’s more, Bell’s palsy causes no complications other than temporary difficulty with facial expressions and actions caused by the facial paralysis.

Supportive Cerebral Palsy Family Attorneys Who Care About Your Case

Cerebral palsy affects children for their entire lives. If you believe your child’s cerebral palsy was caused by a doctor’s medical neglect or error, we’re here to help with the resources and support you need. Contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss the next steps in your case, and let us help your family begin the road to recovery.



Reviewed by:
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant

Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO

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