In a new Vanity Fair cover story titled “Angelina Jolie Solo,” the actress and mother of six explained that after the couple’s 2016 divorce, Jolie developed hypertension (high blood pressure) and Bell’s palsy, which causes one or both sides of the face to become temporarily paralyzed.
“Bell’s palsy occurs when there’s facial nerve inflammation in the back of the brain, which results in a loss of function,” Benjamin Emanuel, DO, assistant professor of neurology at Keck Hospital of USC, tells Yahoo Beauty. “Some people recover from Bell’s palsy and others don’t.”
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the condition affects 40,000 Americans per year. The causes aren’t clear-cut, but possibilities include viral meningitis and common cold viruses. Patients can also experience twitching, drooping features, drooling, dry mouth, and watery eyes, as well as an inability to close the eye, which, according to Emanuel, is one of the most difficult parts to endure.
The specifics of Jolie’s condition are unclear, but the star told the magazine, “Sometimes women in families put themselves last until it manifests itself in their own health.”
There’s no definitive way to diagnose or treat Bell’s palsy, but in Jolie’s case, acupuncture helped alleviate her symptoms. One Chinese study found that Bell’s palsy patients boosted their odds of recovery in a six-month period with acupuncture treatments.
While Jolie only briefly touched on the reasons for her divorce from Pitt by telling Vanity Fair, “Things got bad. I didn’t want to use that word. … Things became ‘difficult,’” she insisted that the couple’s jet-setting lifestyle didn’t negatively affect their marriage. The actress, however, has always been forthright about her health.
Her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer at age 56, an experience that spurred Jolie to get tested for the BRCA1 gene. The positive result meant that Jolie had an estimated 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer; in May 2013, she underwent a preventive double mastectomy. “I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer,” she wrote in a May 2013 op-ed published in the New York Times. “It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options.”
In 2015, when Jolie had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed after blood tests showed potential signs of early cancer, she penned another New York Times op-ed, writing, “I wanted other women at risk to know about the options. I promised to follow up with any information that could be useful, including about my next preventive surgery, the removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes.”
Jolie now seems to be on the mend, both emotionally and physically, save for some pesky gray hairs and dry skin. “I can’t tell if it’s menopause or if it’s just been the year I’ve had,” she tells Vanity Fair. “I actually feel [like] more of a woman because I feel like I’m being smart about my choices, and I’m putting my family first, and I’m in charge of my life and my health. I think that’s what makes a woman complete.”
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