MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. -- Northern Westchester Hospital's Neurosurgeon Dr. Alain C.J. De Lotbinière discusses nerve disorder and treatments.
Imagine a stabbing pain in your jaw or cheek triggered by a mere touch or breath of wind, or a constant aching, burning sensation in your face that doesn’t respond to pain killers. This is what sufferers of trigeminal neuralgia (TN) experience, and it can be so incredibly painful that trigeminal neuralgia has also been called “the suicide disease.” For many sufferers, the pain worsens during the winter months.
TN typically hits people in their 50's or older and, for reasons that aren’t completely clear, more women suffer from TN than men. While the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke puts the incidence of new cases at about 14,000 a year, I think it’s very likely that this is an underestimate because so many people have trouble getting a proper diagnosis.
The pain is usually the result of pressure on the trigeminal nerve, which transmits sensations from the face to the brain. A nearby artery can enlarge, putting pressure on the nerve and wear away its protective sheath. This leads to intermittent or constant pain signaling to the brain, and the attacks can worsen over time.
Often my TN patients have already been to see several other specialists in the attempt to get a diagnosis and find relief. The baffling pain that often eludes the correct diagnosis can be sudden and shock-like or an ever-present ache. It’s typically felt only on one side of the face. Every day activities like washing your face, brushing your teeth, eating, drinking, shaving, and applying makeup can trigger the pain.
Learn more about trigeminal neuralgia on Northern Westchester Hospital’s blog.