TRIGEMINAL NEURALGIA (TN) OR SUICIDE DISEASE:
TN is called “suicide disease” because there have been multiple reports of patients who committed suicide due to severity of this chronic neuropathic pain condition. TN is one of the most painful conditions known to us. It can happen without any reason known to us, or because of degeneration, viral infection or compression of Trigeminal nerve by a tumor or an artery. Dr. Harvey Cushing has demonstrated a rate of 0.6% mortality among 123 cases of TN that were followed during the time period of 1896 and 1912.
This may sound very remote and we may assume that in this day and age there must be better treatments available and patients would not become so desperate to commit suicide. But the currently available treatments are not always effective.There are some medications (anti-epileptics) or injections (nerve blocks) to calm the nerve. There are some other procedures to kill the trigeminal nerve or it’s branches (injection of a liquid that would kill the nerve like: Glycerol, Phenol, Alcohol, etc.) or use radiation or surgery to cut the nerve or decompress the pressure from the close by tumor or artery (Gamma Knife radiation therapy or Microscopic Neurovascular decompression surgery). But the problem is that like any other neuropathic pain condition, once the nerve becomes crazy and starts to function abnormally, it may not be easy to calm it down. Even with cutting the nerve the pain may continue. Sometime injections may make the pain worse by causing more irritation for the nerve. When we talk about severe pain in this condition, we need to put things into proper perspective. Any slight touch, cold, heat, wind, chewing food or any other normal life activity may trigger such a sever pain that the patient would become totally incapacitated due to pain. This is not your usual average or sever pain. This is truly something else. It’s like having dental nerve surgery without anesthetic on a daily basis, or even worse than that.
Patient self management techniques and most importantly meditation can play a significant role in reducing the level of suffering from TN. It is very easy to forget all other good things that are going on with one’s life due to this one terrible condition. Cognitive therapy exercises focusing on the value of all other positive aspects of one’s life can reduce the risk of catastrophic outcomes like suicide for these patients. In my opinion we need more public education and awareness about this and other neuropathic pain conditions so these patients would not suffer the pain and loneliness at the same time.