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Corticosteroids Treat Bell's Palsy

Adding antivirals helps even more with condition that can paralyze the face, review finds

TUESDAY, Sept. 1 (HealthDay News) -- A new review suggests that patients with Bell's Palsy benefit from treatment with corticosteroids, which dampen the immune system, and may do even better when antiviral drugs are included as well.

Bell's Palsy, which causes weakness or paralysis in the facial nerve, strikes 20 to 30 people out of every 100,000. The condition is possibly caused by a herpes infection. About 84 percent of affected patients will fully or almost fully recover, but the others will suffer from problems such as severe facial weakness and involuntary movement, the Canadian study authors wrote.

Their report appears in the Sept. 2 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the study, the scientists reviewed existing research about treatment with corticosteroids or antiviral drugs. They found 18 of 854 studies that met their criteria to be included in a meta-analysis, which looks at evidence from numerous published studies.

The researchers found that corticosteroids reduced the risk of what they called "unsatisfactory recovery" by 9 percent overall. Antiviral drugs lowered the risk even further.

But the researchers cautioned that the added benefit of antiviral drugs wasn't "not definitive" because the results weren't statistically significant. More studies are needed to confirm that the drugs help, the researchers said in a news release from the journal.

"Until the next generation of clinical trials is completed, clinicians and patients will have to deal with substantial uncertainty in deciding whether to add antiviral drugs to corticosteroids for Bell's Palsy," wrote Dr. John F. Steiner, of Kaiser Permanente Colorado, Denver, in an accompanying editorial.

More information

For more on Bell's Palsy, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCE: American Medical Association, news release, Sept. 1, 2009

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