NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Imagine being hit with excruciating pain, without warning, and with no way to control it.
As CBS 2’s Kristine Johnson reported Friday night, it happens to thousands of people every day who are suddenly struck with a condition that’s so debilitating, it pushes them to do the unthinkable.
“It’s just a stabbing, a stabbing kind of pain,” said Kara Nixon.
“This pain would shoot from my mouth, up,” said Lois Scott.
Patients compared the condition to being struck by lightning.
“The pain has been considered to be one of, if not the most painful conditions humans can experience,” said Neurosurgeon Dr. Kevin Yao.
The condition is called trigeminal neuralgia, or TN. It is a dysfunction of the main nerve that gives the face sensation.
“It’s caused by something compressing the nerve deep inside the brain,” said Dr. Neil Holland.
Any number of daily activities can set it off, Yao said.
“Talking, eating, brushing your teeth” are among them, he said.
And even something as simple as a kiss on the cheek or a passing breeze can cause the most excruciating pain, sand sufferers Nixon and Scott.
“It’s always on my mind,” Nixon said.
“You try to avoid those things that might cause it,” Scott said.
According to the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association — as many as 150,000 people are diagnosed with TN every year. And it can be so difficult to live with — it has been dubbed the “suicide disease.”
“It really makes them feel hopeless,” said Holland, of the Monmouth Medical Center.
But Holland said there is hope, and “really effective treatments.”
Especially effective, experts said, is the newest treatment, called the gamma knife radiosurgery machine. It is in operation at Hackensack University Medical Center.
“Inside this vault are hundreds of little sources that provide radiation,” Yao explained.
High doses of radiation deaden the problem nerve and put an end to the pain, according to Yao.
Scott underwent the gamma knife radiosurgery and is now pain free and running a TN support group.
“I just kept pushing through and thinking: ‘I can do this. This isn’t going to take over my life,’” she said.
The gamma knife treatment is covered by most insurance plans.
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