Known as “suicide disease,” trigeminal neuralgia, or facial pain, causes stabbing, mind-numbing pain in even a light breeze. But there is hope for facial pain sufferers: Oregon Health and Science University neurosurgeons have pioneered a method for classifying and diagnosing the disorder, and much of the diagnosis can be accurately done by patients themselves using the world’s first online, artificial neural network for facial pain syndromes. An accurate diagnosis means patients can avoid inappropriate treatments.
Some people call it the “suicide disease.”
Trigeminal neuralgia, or TN, is a disorder affecting the areas of the face where the trigeminal nerve’s branches are distributed, including the lips, eyes, nose, scalp, forehead, and upper and lower jaws. Often caused by an artery that compresses the nerve, the condition can bring about stabbing, mind-numbing, electric shock-like pain from just a light wind or a finger’s glance of the cheek.
Believed to be among the most severe types of pain known to humanity, the most common forms of TN affect 1 in 15,000 to 20,000, but 1 in 5,000 are thought to suffer from some type of facial pain.
People with the condition “are begging to be killed,” said Kim Burchiel, M.D., professor and chairman of neurological surgery at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine who sees several new TN cases a week. “I’m telling you, it’s total agony.”