Trigeminal neuralgia has been nicknamed the “suicide disease” because the pain it causes is said to be so bad that it drives sufferers to suicide. While there is a widespread myth about the number of people who commit suicide because of this disease, the pain of this condition can range from mild to excruciating and can be brought on by such innocuous stimuli as touching your face, eating, drinking, or talking.
While standard pain medications do little to mitigate trigeminal neuralgia pain, drugs like oxcarbazepine or balcofen may bring relief of symptoms. However, these drugs can lose their effectiveness. Surgical procedures are available for trigeminal neuralgia, but until recently, these were invasive. A study published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery showed that radio surgery with CyberKnife can relieve trigeminal neuralgia pain in most patients.
What Causes Trigeminal Neuralgia Pain?
Trigeminal neuralgia is most often described as a sharp, shooting, or electrical-shock-like pain that affects the cheek, teeth, jaw, gums, lips, eye, or forehead on one side of the face. Pain is usually brief in duration, lasting up to several seconds, but it’s recurrent, and can be brought on by speaking, chewing, brushing the teeth, or touching the face. Trigeminal neuralgia symptoms can recede for months or years and then return without warning.
The pain usually occurs due to pressure on the root of the trigeminal nerve, which serves the face and mouth. Such pressure usually comes from an artery or vein pressing on the root of the nerve, though a tumor may also be the culprit. Age is a risk factor for trigeminal neuralgia.
Treating Trigeminal Neuralgia
While drugs can relieve the pain associated with trigeminal neuralgia, they can become less effective over time or cause side effects like confusion, dizziness, drowsiness, double vision, or nausea. A surgery known as microvascular decompression can be used to remove or relocate veins and arteries that may be compressing the root of the trigeminal nerve, but this procedure is invasive and may not be effective for all patients. Side effects can include double vision, weakness, or numbness in the face, impaired hearing, and even stroke.
Radio surgery has been used to treat trigeminal neuralgia for some time. It works by administering radiation to the trigeminal nerve to dull its pain response. Previous techniques required patients to have an invasive procedure that involved mounting a frame in the skull, but new CyberKnife technology enables patients to take advantage of image guidance and tracking software to benefit from radio surgery without the need for a frame. Now you can get relief from trigeminal neuralgia pain with a non-invasive, non-surgical outpatient procedure.
For the study published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery, researchers looked at the effects of CyberKnife radio surgery on 17 trigeminal neuralgia patients aged 36 to 90 who received surgery between 2007 and 2009. These patients had failed to respond to other treatments, and had suffered between one and 11 years.
Fourteen of the patients said they experienced partial or total relief of symptoms, and the average patient began to experience symptom relief in about two months. Four of the patients experienced symptom relapse three to 18 months later. None of the patients reported any serious side effects, and only two reported mild side effects.
If you or someone you love is suffering from trigeminal neuralgia pain, there’s no need to undergo an invasive surgical procedure. For many who try CyberKnife radio surgery, symptom relief is total and permanent.