So, it’s Friday afternoon, and you’re at work in a crammed meeting room. You’re looking forward to dinner with some friends. Only two more hours to go. All you’ve gotta do is get through this important conference call with the client and you’re golden!
As you gaze around the table at your colleagues, who seem equally preoccupied with internal thoughts about the weekend, a stabbing pain, out of nowhere, envelops your right cheek like a lightning bolt from hell!
You wince in pain. It strikes again, but this time you scream, dropping F-bombs like a real housewife of Orange County! By now, you can’t even look up; you’re on your knees hugging your chair. Your coworkers have become just as hysterical, thinking that you’re either dying or having a psychotropic break from reality!
Long after that client call, long after everyone calms down, the memory of that nightmare will forever be burned in your brains. People will think you’re unstable—hysterical, depressed, attention-hungry, and most unfortunately, unfit to work.
Not knowing that you’ll be diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia (TN) months later, you’re miserable.
You see your doctor, who prescribes an anti-depressant and Xanax. Losing your job was totally humiliating, but having to go out on disability because of the consistent pain has wrecked your career and your life. You hate having to lie around in bed, so doped up that you can’t stay awake. And if you try to eat, it hurts like a MOTHER! Sometimes, even the slightest touch on your cheek can set off another firestorm of pain that lasts for a few seconds to a couple of minutes.
This is a real-life account of someone I know who’s gone through hell and back, and she’s not alone.
Trigeminal neuralgia strikes approximately 15,000 Americans and is more common in women in their 50s. The problem is… it’s tricky to diagnose, and because the symptoms are unpredictable, it’s very common for people to feel extremely anxious from not knowing when and where the excruciating pain will return.
It takes a physical exam along with an MRI of the brain to diagnose TM. Frequently, the cause is idiopathic, which means doctors don’t know the underlying cause. While physical trauma and/or injury—even botched dental work—can cause it, TM can also be caused by a brain tumor or multiple sclerosis.
The fifth cranial nerve (AKA trigeminal nerve) lies in your brain and runs from ear to ear like a T-bar of sorts and then branches out. It can get injured when a blood vessel wraps around it, causing the protective outer coating of the nerve, known as the myelin sheath, to wear away. As the blood vessel moves around, rubbing the trigeminal nerve, it’s bad news and the pain begins.
But what most people don’t realize is that, for some, instead of facial pain (in the cheek, jaw, ear, nose, mouth, and/or temple), TM can start with numbness.
Yes—mild, moderate, or intense numbness that can come and go, sometimes lasting for a few moments, hours, days, or longer until fading away. For some lucky people, they never experience the excruciating pain. Instead, they have the mild numbness in their lips or cheek, typically on one side of the face. This is why many people simply choose to live with their little personal oddity like it’s nothing and move on, not realizing they might need help or have the option of taking treatment to prevent it.
Keep in mind:
Type 1 TN covers the intense stabbing pain which usually lasts a few seconds to a minute, while Type 2 TN symptoms are less intense with mild or moderate dull pain that can last longer.