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Joel Embiid Has Bell's Palsy. Here's What That Means.

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A GREAT PLAYOFF performance wasn't all the news centered around the Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid last night. The post-game chatter was accompanied by news of his mild case of Bell's palsy. According to ESPN, Embiid says it started last week and wanted to keep it private to avoid distractions for the team.

This fairly unusual condition—affecting roughly 23 per 100,000 people a year—involves weakness or paralysis on one side of the face. It's one of those conditions that mystifies researchers; they haven't been able to pinpoint the exact cause, but do know that it happens when one of the nerves that controls muscles in the face becomes injured or stops working properly.

The nerve could be affected by a dormant viral infection; impaired immunity due to minor illness or lack or sleep and other daily factors that can ding your immunity; infection and inflammation of a facial nerve, or damage to the sheath that insulates nerve fibers, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Symptoms generally appear over two or three days, and tend to include drooping eyebrows and mouth (which can sometimes cause people to drool) and difficulty closing one eye, which can lead to eye dryness. Some people also have headaches; Embiid said he had those, and he's also said he's bothered by eye dryness and uses drops for it.

When your face is drooping on one side, it's easy to think you're having a stroke—facial drooping is one hallmark of a stroke (along with red flags that make up the acronym BE FAST—Balance loss, Eyesight changes, Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty or slurring). This is a case where you definitely don't want to self-diagnose. If you have facial symptoms, get to a doctor right away.

There are treatments like inflammatory-busting oral steroids (different than anabolic steroids), and antiviral medications. But it still takes a while—a few weeks to about six months—to recover. Occasionally, according to the NINDS, facial function won't fully recover. Research is currently looking more carefully into causes and treatments.

While it's an inconvenient and uncomfortable condition, it doesn't seem to have affected Embiid's game. He dropped 50 points in a historic playoff performance against the Knicks. "I think it started a day or two before the Miami game [in the play-in tournament], and I had bad migraines and thought it was nothing," Embiid said after Thursday's win, per ESPN. "It's pretty annoying, you know, with the left side of my face, my mouth and my eye. So yeah, it's been tough...But I'm not a quitter, so gotta keep fighting. But yeah, it's unfortunate. That's the way I look at it. But it's not an excuse. Gotta keep pushing."

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