Trigeminal Neuralgia: The often misdiagnosed 'suicide disease'

The disorder has impacted individuals globally, including prominent figures like George Clooney and Salma Hayek.

28 Mar 2024 08:00pm
Photo for illustrative purposes only - 123RF
Photo for illustrative purposes only - 123RF

KUALA LUMPUR - Trigeminal Neuralgia, often dubbed the ‘suicide disease’ for its agonisingly unbearable pain, which could drive someone to consider ending their life just to escape the torment, is a debilitating neurological condition that can profoundly disrupt one’s life if untreated.

Despite its rarity, this disorder, also known as Tic douloureux disease, has impacted individuals globally, including prominent figures like George Clooney and Salma Hayek. It manifests as sudden, intense, stabbing, or electric shock-like pain, typically concentrated in the jaw or face.

Shedding light on the facets of this often overlooked and misunderstood affliction, Consultant Neurosurgeon at Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City, Dr Syed Abdullah Al-Haddad, emphasised that the pain of Trigeminal Neuralgia could last anywhere from mere seconds to several minutes, and manifest from just a few to hundreds of attacks per day.

Highlighting that it is more prevalent among women, he explained that the intense, shooting pain on one side of the face characteristic of this condition often leads to misinterpretation and misdiagnosis.

"Patients endure years of debilitating pain with one patient even describing it as worse than labour pain. Sometimes, patients are bounced from pillar to post, seeking a solution," he told Bernama here yesterday.

Drawing from his experience, Dr Syed Abdullah noted that a significant number of patients referred to him endured prolonged pain, and recounted a case where a patient underwent the removal of an entire side of teeth due to misdiagnosis as dental pain before finally being diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia.

"Trigeminal Neuralgia knows no bounds, striking individuals. While it tends to afflict those aged 40 to 50, it not only affects physical well-being but also takes a toll on mental health and quality of life.

"As they endure the intense pain, some patients decide to stop talking or even living a normal life. The symptoms can also interfere with their ability to work, impact relationships as some believe that sufferers are 'mad' or exaggerating their pain, and lead to depression and sleep problems," he emphasised.

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However, although this silent tormentor presents a complex journey from diagnosis to treatment, once accurately diagnosed, it could be effectively treated, he added.

"The biggest challenge for patients with this disease is an accurate diagnosis. Frequently, the condition is misdiagnosed as dental problems or issues related to the ear, nose, and throat first. This is why it is crucial to listen to the patient's symptoms and understand the characteristic features of the pain,” he said.

He highlighted that treatment options include medication to block pain signals or surgical methods such as stereotactic radiosurgery, a non-invasive procedure that delivers focused radiation to the trigeminal nerve root, reducing pain signals with a shorter recovery time and surgery to relieve pressure on the trigeminal nerve.

Dr Syed Abdullah stressed the critical importance of raising awareness and educating both healthcare professionals and the public about Trigeminal Neuralgia, to ensure individuals afflicted with this condition receive the necessary assistance and no longer endure their pain silently. - BERNAMA