The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) has designated August as Neurosurgery Awareness Month. Every year, this prestigious organization chooses a particular focus to highlight within the field. This year, the AANS has chosen to shed some light on trigeminal neuralgia (TN), a rare disorder that causes pain in certain areas of the face and head due to an issue with the trigeminal nerve.
In honor of this Neurosurgery Awareness Month, here are some interesting facts and statistics about TN:
- It is estimated that 1 in 15,000 to 20,000 people worldwide are living with TN. However, it is thought that the number may be higher due to the fact that TN is frequently misdiagnosed as other conditions, such as tooth pain and migraine.
- TN has several potential causes, including:
- A brain lesion or other deformity
- Compression of the nerve by a blood vessel or tumor
- Damage to the nerve from temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD)
- Disorders that damage the myelin sheath—the protective coating around certain nerves—such as multiple sclerosis or Sjogren’s syndrome
- Facial trauma
- Injury from surgery
- There is no test that exists for TN. A TN diagnosis is based on a description of symptoms given to a specialist and when imaging tests have ruled out other possible causes for the pain.
- TN seems to appear more frequently in women and in adults over 50 years of age. In rare cases, children can also develop the disorder.
- Pain from TN can be triggered by a number of things, including:
- Brushing teeth
- Exposure to cold, heat or a swift breeze
- TN is informally known as the suicide disease, presumably due to the intense, repetitive pain driving people to end their lives (though there are no known statistics to confirm this belief).
- TN is usually managed with medication to reduce or block the pain signals to the brain. In some cases, however, medication can become less effective over time or cause unpleasant side effects. Then, surgery may become the next viable option with procedures including:
- Microvascular decompression (MVD)
- Stereotactic radiosurgery
- Though TN has no cure, there is support available for those who need it, including:
By raising awareness and supporting one another, a cure for this debilitating condition may be on the horizon someday.