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Health Team

Procedure Zaps Away Facial Nerve Pain

Posted June 4, 2007 3:06 p.m. EDT
Updated June 4, 2007 8:21 p.m. EDT

— Health officials are diagnosed with a medical condition where they feel like they suffer an electrical shock to their face, but there's a new treatment to kill the pain.

It was 17 years ago when Pat Mooney first felt the incredible pain.

"It was like an electric circuit in the face," Mooney said.

Mooney was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia. About 45,000 Americans suffer from the disorder, which causes nerves in the face to send intense pain signals to the brain for no reason.

"It was like a firecracker going off in my cheek," he said.

Health officials said an episode can last up to a minute and they are sporadic. They could occur everyday and then nothing would happen for weeks. No one knows what causes the condition.

For years, Mooney could dull the pain with regular medication, but eventually the medication stopped working as the pain got worse and more frequent.

One option is brain surgery, where doctors can go in and cut around the nerve. Another option involves a machine, which shoots laser-guided radiation through the brain. The machine moves around the head sending beams of radiation directly onto the trigeminal nerve.

"We destroy the ability of the nerve to carry that pain directly to the brain," said Dr. Antonio DeSalles, of UCLA Neurosurgery. "It stops the pain altogether in a great majority of the patients."

After undergoing the procedure, Mooney has not had an episode in five months.

"When you are pain-free, it feels so good," he said.

In a few patients, the condition does return and a second procedure is needed.