The purpose of this prospective study was to define the enhancement pattern of the facial nerve in idiopathic facial paralysis (Bell's palsy) on magnetic resonance (MR) imaging with routine doses of gadolinium-DTPA (0.1 mmol/kg). Using 0.5T imager, 24 patients were examined with a mean interval time of 13.7 days between the onset of symptoms and the MR examination. Contralateral asymptomatic facial nerves constituted the control group and five of the normal facial nerves (20.8%) showed enhancement confined to the geniculate ganglion. Hence, contrast enhancement limited to the geniculate ganglion in the abnormal facial nerve (3 of 24) was referred to as equivocal. Not encountered in any of the normal facial nerves, enhancement of other segments alone or associated with geniculate ganglion enhancement was considered to be abnormal and noted in 70.8% of the symptomatic facial nerves. The most frequently enhancing segments were the geniculate ganglion and the distal intracanalicular segment.