High Rate of Misdiagnoses for Lesser Known “Suicide Disease” Spotlights Need for Second Opinion

Trigeminal neuralgia, often referred to as the “suicide disease,” is an excruciating facial nerve disorder many have never heard of. But for the 12 out of every 100,000 people per year affected by it, the condition can make living a normal life agonizing and unbearable.

October 7 is recognized as Trigeminal Neuralgia Awareness Day, a time to highlight this debilitating condition and encourage those who experience symptoms to seek an expert opinion, as many cases of TN are frequently misdiagnosed.

TN can occur when a blood vessel compresses the trigeminal nerve, one of the largest nerves in the head. The condition is characterized by episodes of intense electroshock-like, stabbing or burning sensations in the face that can be triggered by the slightest touch or even common actions like chewing or talking.

Louisville CyberKnife medical director Dr. Shiao Woo notes the importance of seeking a second opinion from a neurology expert familiar with the condition to diagnose and determine an appropriate treatment option for the symptoms.

“A number of our patients come to us for help after undergoing several other treatments or consultations with little success at reducing or eliminating their pain,” said Dr. Woo. “Louisville CyberKnife’s multidisciplinary approach allows us to evaluate each patient’s symptoms and determine an individualized treatment plan to provide symptom relief.”

Due to its rarity, a high number of TN cases are misdiagnosed as a dental problem. Those suffering from TN will often seek help from numerous health care professionals before a final diagnosis is made, sometimes undergoing unnecessary procedures such as root canals in search of the problem.

In addition to medication, common treatment options include surgery and stereotactic radiosurgery, a method of treatment used to treat benign and malignant tumors throughout the body. Stereotactic radiosurgery is a noninvasive treatment that uses targeted, high-dose radiation to interrupt pain-causing fibers along the trigeminal nerve. The treatment is complete within one treatment session, providing immediate pain relief for some patients. Louisville CyberKnife uses a multidisciplinary approach that involves collaboration among physicians from different specialties to diagnose and treat typical and atypical cases of TN.

“Advancements made in radiosurgery give patients suffering from this excruciating condition the ability to regain control of their lives,” said Dr. Woo. “The CyberKnife® allows us to treat trigeminal neuralgia with unmatched precision and virtually no side effects, allowing patients to return to their normal routines immediately following treatment. For some patients, pain can be completely eliminated.”

This is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your health care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.