The pain was sudden, severe and debilitating – and came without warning. Anna Morgan, 61, sought help from her physician to diagnose sporadic and intense episodes of pain in her face.
“It felt like someone just walking up and slugging me on the right side of my face,” Morgan said. “I never knew when it was going to hit. Sometimes brushing my teeth or putting on makeup would trigger it.”
It turned out Morgan was suffering from trigeminal neuralgia.
“Classic trigeminal neuralgia is caused by a blood vessel that comes in contact with the fifth cranial nerve, which provides feeling to the face,” said Tom L. Yao, M.D., endovascular neurosurgery. “This constantly pulsating vessel can cause the nerve to confuse transmission of pain to the brain.”
Morgan began to dread being around people and avoided groups, including her own church, because she was afraid her expression during the episodes of pain would scare people.
She even worried about the impact it might have on her grandchildren. After trying several different medications, she turned to surgery.
The best surgical option for patients like Morgan is microvascular decompression surgery, according to Dr. Yao. An incision is made behind the ear, and a felt pad is placed between the blood vessel and nerve. Other options include damaging the nerve with a balloon, electrode or radiation to dull the sensation of pain.
Morgan’s decompression surgery, performed by Shervin R. Dashti, M.D., Ph.D., at Norton Brownsboro Hospital, worked better than she expected, and she was symptom free just a few months later.
“That fourth day after surgery I woke up with more energy than I’d had in years,” Morgan said. “They said this works for some people, but not for others – but for me, it’s been amazing.”
“It’s hard to pinpoint why someone develops trigeminal neuralgia,” said Dr. Yao, who has seen many cases of the condition. “There is no specific environmental cause.”
Morgan tells her story to give hope to others who suffer from this condition. “It’s been well worth it,” she said. “It’s an absolute miracle.”
–Robyn Davis Sekula
Want to know more? Attend a free seminar all about trigeminal neuralgia on September 9. This session of Headache School will be presented by a Norton Neuroscience Institute neurosurgeon and will focus on the medical and surgical options for treating trigeminal neuralgia.
Sept 11, 6-7:30 pm
Marshall Women’s Center Suite 108-1B
Norton Healthcare St. Matthews Campus
Norton Suburban Hospital
Call (502) 629-1234 for more information & to register.