M16 — April 2012 — Fighting Face Pain
Intro: Imagine this: Excruciating pain every time you brush your teeth, scratch your nose or crack a smile. That's reality for people who suffer from what's called trigeminal neuralgia. It's a condition that causes intense bouts of pain in your face, and for the woman you're about to meet, it was debilitating.
"Pain. That's the word. It's pain."
Fida Webb [Fee'-dah Web] can't quite believe she's on the back of her husband's bike. And enjoying it.
"Even just a little wind. It would trigger the pain."
Fida had trigeminal neuralgia. It's a condition that caused repeated attacks of intense, stabbing pain in her face. Three, four or more times a day.
"Scale of one to twenty? Probably more than that. Twenty-five or thirty or so."
So bad that Fida says her life stopped. She didn't want to do anything because just about everything — smiling, talking, and moving — sparked it.
"For 7 years I was in a depression."
"Many of these patients come to the office, and they are very, very desperate."
Dr. Ronald Reimer is a neurosurgeon at Mayo Clinic. He says some people who come to his office have lost weight because it's too painful to eat.
"There are various treatment options. For younger and healthy patients, the most definitive way to treat the problem is by what we call a micro vascular decompression."
That involves removing a small piece of bone behind the ear to access the source of the pain — a blood vessel that pulsates against the trigeminal nerve and over time, damages it's myelin sheath. Then, Dr. Reimer moves the vessels away from the nerve, and places a pad between them to keep them apart. Another, less invasive method involves making a tiny nick in the cheek through which doctors insert a blunt tipped needle followed by a balloon. The instruments are guided to the site where the nerve exits the base of the skull. When they inflate the balloon it creates pressure that allows Dr. Reimer to cautiously compress the nerve and block pain signals.
"Sometimes that procedure takes as little as ten minutes and should give fairly immediate relief of pain."
"The pain. Thank God it's gone!"
It worked for Fida.
"Oh, my life is back. I can smile. I can kiss my husband, just giggle."
Fida knows there's a chance the pain could return. If so, she says she'll sign up for another procedure.
For Mayo Clinic, I'm Vivien Williams.
Dr. Reimer says the procedure Fida had can cause some face numbness afterwards. But she says that's something she was willing to risk if it meant getting rid of the pain.
For more information, visit our website at…
STATIONS: Per the licensing agreement, please provide a link from your station's website to http://www.MayoClinic.org or voice tag "MayoClinic.org" for more information.