Treating the "suicide disease"

By Britney Glaser - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The pain is so intense the condition is actually called the "suicide disease."  Described as electric shocks in the face, patients living with trigeminal neuralgia live in excruciating pain each day, but now - relief is in sight.

For three years, Sarah Woolley lived with severe pain.  "It felt like someone was stabbing me with an ice pick and it would go shooting down the side of my face," she says.

With four kids under the age of eight, Sarah felt helpless as the pain took more of her life away.  "It took my quality of life to basically nothing," she says, "to where I was just laying in bed all day, every day, just not knowing what to do."

Misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis and countless pain medications finally came to an end when Sarah met Dr. Gregory Rubino - a neurovascular surgeon at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Rubino explained that Sarah had a condition called trigeminal neuralgia, also known as the suicide disease because of its unbearable pain.  "The pain is so horrible for patients that many go on to commit suicide before they're properly treated," says Dr. Rubino.

Patients with this condition have an irritated trigeminal nerve, which feeds sensations throughout the face.  Dr. Rubino says, "The most common presenting symptoms are incredible facial pain that generally starts from behind the ear and then goes down into the gum line and starts right at the midline."

Pain medications can take the edge off the pain - but it's only a temporary fix. Sarah decided to have a permanent solution through microvascular decompression, a surgery to move the affected artery from the trigeminal nerve.  "After we access the trigeminal nerve, we look for the vessel pushing on the nerve and usually this is found underneath the nerve," says Dr. Rubino, "and so we would dissect the artery off of the nerve and make sure it's safely off the brain stem and then we put a small piece of teflon between the artery and the nerve."

The teflon acts as a barrier between the artery and nerve, eliminating the pain.  Sarah had the procedure one month ago and says she is now completely pain free.  "It's almost like a bad memory...bad dream. It's over," says Sarah.

*For more information on trigeminal neuralgia, call Dr. Rubino's office at 494-4720.

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