Trigeminal Neuralgia: Vernon’s Story


Vernon Traxler suffered from painful trigeminal neuralgia for over 16 years before he found relief with CyberKnife. Watch Vernon explain what those years felt like and how he feels now after being treated at Columbus CyberKnife.

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.

Columbus CyberKnife medical director Dr. Douglas Widman 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. Widman. “Columbus 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. Columbus 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. Widman. “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.

Trigeminal Neuralgia Treatment: CyberKnife and Gamma Knife Overview

Trigeminal neuralgia is a painfully debilitating neuropathic disorder. Commonly referred to as TN, the condition is a disorder of the trigeminal, or fifth cranial, nerve that controls sensation in the face. TN patients experience episodes of intense, electroshock-like pain on either side of the face, in the forehead or along the jaw. TN is usually diagnosed based on a patient’s description of symptoms.

Pain can be triggered by something as simple as a light breeze to things like chewing, talking or swallowing. Episodes of pain can arise suddenly. Because it can be emotionally incapacitating for patients and significantly impact their quality of life, TN is commonly known as the “suicide disease.”

Our center treats TN with a procedure called stereotactic radiosurgery, a noninvasive method of treating certain types of tumors and conditions like TN with high-dose radiation beams precisely targeted to a segment of the trigeminal nerve using CyberKnife® technology.

Read below for a treatment comparison of CyberKnife and Gamma Knife®, another technology used to treat TN.

  • Comfort – Gamma Knife uses a metal frame to stabilize the patient’s head during treatment, while TN treatment with CyberKnife is completely noninvasive and doesn’t require a fixed metal head frame. With CyberKnife, patients undergoing treatment simply lie on a treatment table wearing a mesh facemask as the machine rotates around them and automatically adjusts and corrects for any movement.
  • Sedation – Because Gamma KnifeÊuses a metal head frame to secure a patient’s head, local anesthesia is required to eliminate any pain and discomfort during the process. However, treatment with CyberKnife is painless and does not require any anesthesia, allowing patients to resume their normal routines following treatment.

Contact us for more information about how we treat TN patients.

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.

Trigeminal Neuralgia Awareness Day

October 7 is Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN) Awareness Day. Though rare, TN is a debilitating nerve disorder that is also called the “suicide disease” due to the intense pain patients experience.

TN is caused when a blood vessel compresses the fifth cranial nerve, one of the largest nerves in the head. Patients are unable to predict when a painful episode will occur, and pain can often be caused by everyday activities like chewing and swallowing.

Below are a few facts on the disorder and ways to support loved ones with TN:

  • Wear teal. TN patients have created many initiatives to support TN research and raise awareness. Read more about their efforts here.
  • Understand the symptoms. TN is often mistaken for a dental disorder because it often causes sharp pain along the jaw. Many TN sufferers will undergo root canals or tooth extractions before determining the true cause of pain. Early detection can prevent unnecessary procedures and extended pain.
  • Review treatment options. Treatment options can include painkillers or other antidepressant or anticonvulsive medications. Though primarily used to treat cancer, the CyberKnife® technology at Columbus CyberKnife can treat TN. Studies have shown CyberKnife treatment can reduce or eliminate pain in about 85 to 90 percent of patients.

Former Columbus CyberKnife patient Willie Burroughs shared her story of living with TN and undergoing treatment at our center with WCMH-NBC4. Watch her story in a video here.