Trigeminal neuralgia historical perspective

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

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Trigeminal neuralgia is considered by many to be among the most painful of conditions and once was labeled the suicide disease because of the significant numbers of people taking their own lives before effective treatments were discovered.

Historical Perspective

Historically trigeminal neuralgia has been called "suicide disease" by Harvey Cushing, who did a series of studies involving 123 cases of TN during 1896 and 1912.[1]

  • First full and accurate description of trigeminal neuralgia was given by John Fothergill in 1773, but early descriptions of TN can be inferred from the writings of Galen, Aretaeus of Cappadocia and in the 11th century by Avicenna("tortura Orgs").[2]
  • The most convincing early description was of a German physician, Johannes Laurentius Bausch. In 1671, he suffered from a lightening like pain in the right face and became unable to speak or eat properly and apparently succumbed to malnutrition.[3]
  • In 1677, John Locke, a physician and well known philosopher described the condition in a series of letters to Dr John Mapletoft. His account tells of his unfortunate patient, the Countess of Northumberland, wife of Ambassador to France.[2]
  • In 1756, Nicolas Andre conceptualized TN in terms of convulsive behavior and invented the term tic Douloureux to reflect both the pain his patients described as well as the facial spasms he documented.[4]
  • In 1773, John Fothergill's description of "a painful affection of the face" was presented to Medical Society to London.[5]

Famous cases:

  • Four-time British Prime Minister William Gladstone is believed to have had the disease.[6]
  • In 2009, the entrepreneur and author Melissa Seymour was diagnosed with TN and underwent microvascular decompression surgery. Her case was covered by magazines and newspapers which helped to raise public awareness of the illness in Australia. Seymour was subsequently made a Patron of the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association of Australia.[7]
  • In 2011, Salman Khan, one of India's most successful film stars, was diagnosed with TN, resulting in tremendous media coverage in the country and abroad. He underwent surgery in the US.[7]
  • In 2013 All-Ireland winning Gaelic footballer Christy Toye was diagnosed with the condition.[7]
  • Jim Fitzpatrick - Member of Parliament for Poplar and Limehouse - disclosed he suffered from trigeminal neuralgia before undergoing neurosurgery. He has openly discussed his condition at parliamentary meetings and is a prominent figure in the TNA UK charity.[7]
  • Andrea Jenkyns - Member of Parliament for Morley and Outwood - diagnosis with TN came to light during her television debate on Prime Minister’s Questions where she struggled to get her words out.[7]
  • Jefferson Davis - President of the Confederate States of America.[7]
  • Charles Sanders Peirce - American philosopher, scientist and father of pragmatism.[7]
  • Gloria Steinem - American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist.[7]
  • Anneli van Rooyen, Afrikaans singer-songwriter popular during the 1980s and 1990s, was diagnosed with atypical trigeminal neuralgia in 2004.[7]
  • H.R., singer of hardcore punk band Bad Brains.[7]


  1. Adams H, Pendleton C, Latimer K, Cohen-Gadol AA, Carson BS, Quinones-Hinojosa A (May 2011). "Harvey Cushing's case series of trigeminal neuralgia at the Johns Hopkins Hospital: a surgeon's quest to advance the treatment of the 'suicide disease'". Acta Neurochir (Wien). 153 (5): 1043–50. doi:10.1007/s00701-011-0975-8. PMID 21409517.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Trigeminal neuralgia (Fothergill's disease) in the 17th and 18th centuries | Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry".
  3. Dewhurst, Kenneth (1957). "A Symposium on Trigeminal Neuralgia With Contributions by Locke, Sydenham, and other Eminent Seventeenth Century Physicians". Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. XII (1): 21–36. doi:10.1093/jhmas/XII.1.21. ISSN 0022-5045.
  4. "History of Trigeminal Neuraliga | UT Health San Antonio".
  5. Pearce, J. M. S. (2013). "John Fothergill: A Biographical Sketch and his Contributions to Neurology". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. 22 (3): 261–276. doi:10.1080/0964704X.2012.714136. ISSN 0964-704X.
  6. Sack, James J. (2014). "William Gladstone: New Studies and Perspectives. Edited by Roland Quinault, Roger Swift, and Ruth Clayton Windscheffel.Farnham: Ashgate, 2012. Pp. xviii+350. $134.95". The Journal of Modern History. 86 (4): 904–905. doi:10.1086/678722. ISSN 0022-2801.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 "Trigeminal neuralgia - Wikipedia".

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