Pain condition is so agonising people kill themselves to escape horror

Have you heard of a pain that can lead to death? It’s called trigeminal neuralgia (TN) – a little-known, unpredictable facial pain, which can be brought on just by talking, smiling, laughing or even kissing.

Sufferers describe the pain as being like a vicious electric shock, or being tortured with a cattle prod in the face.

TN can be so agonising that some people would rather kill themselves than face a future living in isolation and misery.

There have been eight “known” suicides associated with the condition in recent years.

Fear of another unpredictable attack, coupled with the debilitating effects of the drugs, causes victims to become withdrawn and isolated.

Eating, drinking, talking and smiling can be unbearably painful.

The slightest breeze, air ­conditioning or just the movement when walking can bring on a sudden attack of pain on one side of the face. TN is more common in women than men, and although it usually affects people aged 50 or over, it can also affect younger ages, including children.

The cause, in most cases, remains unknown, although it is associated with multiple sclerosis and, very
rarely, can be caused by a tumour of the brain.

Although the attacks of pain are short-lasting, they can occur many times a day. They can vary in severity and can also disappear for a few weeks or months.

But, in most cases, it’s a progressive condition, worsening over time.

It’s estimated that more than 60,000 people in the UK have TN.

As little is known about the disease, even by doctors, patients can wait months or years for diagnosis and treatment. They are often passed around the system or given ­inappropriate drugs.

As the pain can occur in the mouth, patients may undergo unnecessary and even harmful dental work before being given the correct diagnosis, which sometimes leaves people in severe pain.

Even the strongest painkillers, such as morphine, don’t always work.

Anticonvulsant drugs – normally used to treat epilepsy – are effective initially but they have unpleasant
side effects and may eventually stop working, even in higher and higher doses.

Patients need to be referred to specialist neurosurgeons in order to get the best long-term results.

Surgery can often bring lasting relief but comes with a risk of irreversible complications.

In the meantime, patients can’t live a normal life and daily activities can become an overwhelming struggle, which of course has a huge impact on partners and families.