Trigeminal neuralgia — what is this relatively unknown ailment?

It sounds like a macabre answer on the TV game show “Jeopardy”: An ancient malady that causes occasional sharp, stabbing, electric-shock-like pain along a nerve on a person’s face so terrible it’s been called “the suicide disease.”

In reality, it’s trigeminal neuralgia — so named because the pain is caused by the trigeminal nerve that begins just behind the ear on either side of the face and spreads across the cheeks, jaw, lips and nose. Most people mistakenly assume they have an abscessed tooth.

The first clear description emerged in 1671, when the excruciating pain afflicted a well-known physician, Johannes Laurentis Bausch of Germany (1605–1665), founder and first president of the Imperial Leopoldian Academy of Natural Sciences, according to a report co-written by University of Illinois at Chicago neurosurgeon Dr. Konstantin Slavin.

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