One of the most painful diseases in the world is also one of the most mysterious. There is currently no cure and it is exceptionally rare, so the doctor’s still don’t really know why it happens to some people. What is known about the disease, which is called Trigeminal Neuralgia, is that it affects only about 12 people out of every 100,000. It is a disease that causes such severe facial pain that it has been compared to the feeling of being struck by lightning and being stabbed in the face repeatedly. Neurobiologists are doing their best to find out more about the disease, but we’ll tell you what we know so far.
The disease. Trigeminal Neuralgia is a chronic pain disorder that is classified as one of the most painful diseases in the world. It’s a neurological disorder that affects the muscles in your face and causes extremely intense pain on a regular basis. Simple acts like brushing your teeth or applying makeup can put you in agony.
What it is exactly. To get an understanding of the disorder, you have to understand the basic layout of the facial nerves and muscles. In your head, there are 12 pairs of cranial nerves. Some of these nerve pairs are called trigeminal nerves, and they branch off into three different subsets.
Exploring the nerve branches. The three nerve branches include the ophthalmic branch, the maxillary branch, and the mandibular branch. The first control your eye, upper eyelids, and your forehead. The second controls affect your lower eyelids, cheeks, nostrils, upper lip, and upper gum. Lastly, the mandibular branch controls the jaw, lower lip, lower gum, and some muscles used for chewing.
What it feels like. Basically, what this little anatomy lesson means is that the pain disorder can affect your entire face, from your jaw to your forehead. People with the disease have described the feeling like that of being struck by lightning, hit with intense electric shocks, being carved up with a knife, or experiencing a severe burn
Worse than childbirth. Those women who have experienced both childbirth and Trigeminal Neuralgia agree that the pain resulting from this disease is far worse. What makes it so bad is not just how painful it is when it happens, but the fact that it is chronic. With childbirth, once it’s over it’s over. With this disease, the episodes of intense pain are always coming and going your whole life.
Who it affects. Doctors note that Trigeminal Neuralgia primarily affects people over the age of 50. And, of course, women are more likely to get the disease than men. That’s the way the world works, isn’t it?
There are young people with the disease. While the disease primarily affects those over 50, this does not exclude young people from getting the disease. There are a handful of 20-somethings with Trigeminal Neuralgia as well. These cases are often worse because they realize they have to go on living the entirety of their life with this chronic, intense pain. If you’re 50 or 60 when you get it, the grim upside is that you have fewer years of pain left.
How it affects your social life. Those with Trigeminal Neuralgia often also have anxiety because they are constantly worried about their next pain attack. Because of this, it limits their ability to not only enjoy their lives but to go out and socialize.
Depression. Understandably, depression is also common amongst those with the disease. With no current cure available and poor treatment options, living with Trigeminal Neuralgia can be devastating. Going through life for the average person is hard enough. Going through life in constant pain with no real relief in sight is miserable.
Suicide. This disease has earned itself the extremely morbid nickname of “The Suicide Disease.” Severe depression can result in suicide if not properly monitored. What’s more is that people living with Trigeminal Neuralgia tend to be taking loads of drugs just to manage the pain and often OD. Whether the OD’s are mostly purposeful or accidental remains unclear.
Pain management. Obviously, if you’re in constant and severe pain, you’re going to have to find a way to keep it somewhat manageable. Your doctor can prescribe anticonvulsants to help keep the nerves from reacting to irritation. Muscle relaxants are also typically prescribed to people with this disease.
How it’s treated. It is important to note that typical pain medications don’t work for people with Trigeminal Neuralgia. Instead, doctors often end up prescribing something called a tricyclic antidepressant to help you manage your symptoms. Basically, you’ll be keeping a pharmacy in your house.
Drugs and overdose. While drugs can help manage your symptoms for a while, it often ends up being ineffective in the long run. You build up a resistance and constantly require a higher dosage for the drugs to work. This often has awful side effects on various organs in your body, including your brain.
Surgery. For this reason, most people with the disease end up having surgery at some point. Surgery options include moving or removing blood vessels that are affecting the nerve, using radiation on your trigeminal nerve, or destroying nerve fibers. Unfortunately, though, the success rate of this procedure isn’t very high. While subjects remain pain-free for several months to a year, the pain often returns.
There is currently no cure. As we said, there is currently no cure for Trigeminal Neuralgia. However, the TNA Facial Pain Association is attempting to find a cure by 2020. It’s an ambitious goal, but they’ve got their best researchers on the case. They think that if they can find a way to fix the nerve, they can cure the pain that comes from it.