Stamford, CT - Most cases of trigeminal neuralgia, a disorder also known as the “suicide disease,” take months if not years to diagnose because the symptoms are often confused with many other conditions. Trigeminal neuralgia is a disorder of the nerve that relays feeling from the face to the brain that is characterized by episodes of intense facial pain that last from a few seconds to several minutes or hours. Difficult to diagnosis, it is even more difficult to treat. Now, neurosurgeon Dr. Scott Simon of ONS at Tully Health Center is successfully treating this disabling disease and giving patients back their lives.
In 2003 at age 66, Inez Martinelli began to experience periodic episodes of pain in what she thought was her tooth. After a number of visits to her dentist, desperate to pinpoint the source of her discomfort, the problem just got worse. Eventually, the pain moved to the side of her nose, then settled just under her bottom teeth and became so severe, at times she could neither speak or eat. After years of tests and visits to dentists and other specialists, she was finally diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia. Finding an effective treatment for her condition however, was an even greater challenge. Medications, which are typically the first line of treatment, did not work. The pain worsened and she was forced to quit her job. Her life was turned upside down.
Last August, Inez found her way to the office of Dr. Simon, who uses the Stamford Hospital Cyberknife to treat trigeminal neuralgia. The Cyberknife technology is specifically designed for the delivery of stereotactic radiosurgery and operates through a collaboration of the neurosurgeon, a radiation oncologist, and radiation physicist. Treatment consists of aiming precisely focused beams of radiation on the trigeminal nerve. The hour-long procedure is non-invasive, painless, requires no incision, and patients go home the same day.
“In a preliminary appointment, a mask of her head was created to be used to calibrate and guide the beams of radiation,” explained Dr. Simon who is Neurosurgical Director of Cyberknife radiosurgery for the Stamford Hospital CyberKnife team. “Two weeks later she returned for the treatment, which lasted about an hour. Inez had another attack that night, but over the next few weeks the frequency and severity of the episodes gradually diminished, and four weeks later they had vanished completely.”
After seven years of agonizing pain, Inez had made a full recovery and was pain free. “I want others, who suffer with the terrible facial pain of trigeminal neuralgia, to know there is hope and a treatment that works,” said Ms. Martinelli. “My life was at a standstill. I could make no plans. I am so grateful to have my life back.”
Trigeminal Neuralgia typically strikes in mid- to late-life. Attacks can be brought on by something as simple and routine as brushing the teeth, putting on makeup or even a slight breeze. Often, the disorder can be managed effectively with a variety of anti-seizure medications that help stabilize the nerve. Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture can be important adjuncts to medication. “Every case is different but in general, treatment begins conservatively with medication,” said Dr. Simon. “However, if medication fails, surgery or stereotactic radiosurgery may be an option and can lead to a complete cure. The Cyberknife System at Stamford Hospital is one of the most advanced radiosurgery delivery systems available, and is specifically designed to perform this function.”
Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery Specialists PC (ONS) is the most advanced multi-specialty orthopedic and neurosurgery practice in Fairfield and Westchester counties. ONS physicians provide expertise in the full spectrum of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries, sports medicine, minimally invasive orthopedic, spine and brain surgery, joint replacement and trauma. The main office is located at 6 Greenwich Office Park on Valley Road, Greenwich, CT. For more information, visit www.onsmd.com or call (203) 869-1145.