Raising Awareness for Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia (ATN) - Black Hills 100 Race Training (Thursday, June 11)
Both forms of facial neuralgia are relatively rare, with an incidence recently estimated between 12 and 24 new cases per hundred thousand population per year.
ATN often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for extended periods, leading to a great deal of unexplained pain and anxiety. A National Patient Survey conducted by the US Trigeminal Neuralgia Association in the late 1990s indicated that the average facial neuralgia patient may see six different physicians before receiving a first definitive diagnosis. The first practitioner to see facial neuralgia patients is often a dentist who may lack deep training in facial neurology. Thus ATN may be misdiagnosed as Tempormandibular Joint Disorder.
This disorder is regarded by many medical professionals to comprise the most severe form of chronic pain known in medical practice. In some patients, pain may be unresponsive even to opioid drugs at any dose level that leaves the patient conscious. The disorder has thus acquired the unfortunate and possibly inflammatory nickname, "the suicide disease".
Symptoms of ATN may overlap with a similarly unexplained pain occurring in teeth called atypical odontalgia (literal meaning "unusual tooth pain"), with aching, burning, or stabs of pain localized to one or more teeth and adjacent jaw. The pain may seem to shift from one tooth to the next, after root canals or extractions. In desperate efforts to alleviate pain, some patients undergo multiple (but unneeded) root canals or extractions, even in the absence of suggestive X-ray evidence of dental abscess.
ATN symptoms may also be similar to those of post-herpetic neuralgia, which causes nerve inflammation when the latent herpes zoster virus of a previous case of chicken pox re-emerges in shingles. Fortunately, post-herpetic neuralgia is generally treated with medications which are also effective against ATN.
The subject of atypical trigeminal neuralgia is considered problematic even among experts. Some forms of orofacial pain are relatively well defined and easy to recognize while others seem to represent a diverse group of pain syndromes with considerable overlap, several classification schemes, vague characterization and controversial entities. The term atypical TN is broad and due to the complexity of the condition, there are considerable issues with defining the condition further. Some medical practitioners no longer make a distinction between facial neuralgia (a nominal condition of inflammation) versus facial neuropathy (direct physical damage to a nerve).
Due to the variability and imprecision of their pain symptoms, ATN or atypical odontalgia patients may be misdiagnosed with atypical facial pain (AFP) or "hypochondriasis", both of which are considered problematic by many practitioners. The term "atypical facial pain" is sometimes assigned to pain which crosses the mid-line of the face or otherwise does not conform to expected boundaries of nerve distributions or characteristics of validated medical entities. As such, the term is seen to comprise a diagnosis by reduction.
As noted in material published by the [US] National Pain Foundation: "atypical facial pain is a confusing term and should never be used to describe patients with trigeminal neuralgia or trigeminal neuropathic pain. Strictly speaking, AFP is classified as a "somatiform pain disorder"; this is a psychological diagnosis that should be confirmed by a skilled pain psychologist. Patients with the diagnosis of AFP have no identifiable underlying physical cause for the pain. The pain is usually constant, described as aching or burning, and often affects both sides of the face (this is almost never the case in patients with trigeminal neuralgia). The pain frequently involves areas of the head, face, and neck that are outside the sensory territories that are supplied by the trigeminal nerve. It is important to correctly identify patients with AFP since the treatment for this is strictly medical. Surgical procedures are not indicated for atypical facial pain."
The term "hypochondriasis" is closely related to "somatiform pain disorder" and "conversion disorder" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association. As of July 2011, this axis of the DSM-IV is undergoing major revision for the DSM-V, with introduction of a new designation "Complex Somatic Symptom Disorder". However, it remains to be demonstrated that any of these "disorders" can reliably be diagnosed as a medical entity with a discrete and reliable course of therapy.
It is possible that there are triggers or aggravating factors that patients need to learn to recognize to help manage their health. Bright lights, sounds, stress, and poor diet are examples of additional stimuli that can contribute to the condition. The pain can cause nausea, so beyond the obvious need to treat the pain, it is important to be sure to try to get adequate rest and nutrition.
Depression is frequently co-morbid with neuralgia and neuropathic pain of all sorts, as a result of the negative effects that pain has on one's life. Depression and chronic pain may interact, with chronic pain often predisposing patients to depression, and depression operating to sap energy, disrupt sleep and heighten sensitivity and the sense of suffering. Dealing with depression should thus be considered equally important as finding direct relief from the pain.
Black Hills 100 Race Training (16 days to race day)
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