Medical Minute 2-14: Cutting Facial Pain

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

For Claire Bush, a single brush of makeup used to be enough to send a searing jolt of pain into the right side of her face.

"It burns like fire. It's like electricity at the same time. Just too scary. You didn't want to set it off," said Claire Bush.

For 15 years, the slightest touch.

"Touching your face, putting your makeup on, chewing, swallowing," said Claire Bush.

Could trigger excruciating pain. No medication helped.

"I went to a support group because I was going to kill myself," said Claire Bush.

It's called trigeminal neuralgia a disorder of the nerve that supplies sensation to the face.

"This is the trigeminal nerve on the right side."

Barrow's Neurologist Doctor Andrew Shetter offered an answer that changed Claire's life -- a 30-minute treatment that focuses x-ray beams on the nerve -- literally injuring it to stop the pain.

"The long-term results with the Gamma Knife are that about 50 percent of the patients will become pain-free, off medicines long-term. That's with five- and 10-year follow-ups," said Andrew G Shetter, M.D., Chairman, Division of Functional and Stereotactic Neurosurgery Barrow Neurological Institute Phoenix, AZ.

"This is the right nerve."

Pain can also be caused by compression of the nerve itself. In a second, less-invasive procedure, called micro-vascular decompression, Doctor Shetter was able to move a blood vessel that was putting painful pressure on the nerve.

"That's the optimal result, no pain," said Andrew G Shetter, M.D.

Now, Claire is virtually pain-free -- doing things she was afraid to do before. After 15 years of misery, she finally feels like herself again.

"Oh, I'm functioning again. I have my life back," said Claire Bush.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT: Carmelle MalkovichPublic RelationsSt. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center/Barrow Neurological 406-3319

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