A fit and healthy mother-of-six has revealed how her life changed in an instant after a shooting pain while drinking a cup of orange juice led to a debilitating diagnosis.
Stacey Welsh, 33, a midwifery student, was last month studying in her Wānaka home, north of Queenstown, when she drank a sip of juice and felt the ‘most excruciating pain’ she has ever experienced.
A fitness enthusiast, who has never suffered from ill-health, the mother was shocked by the sharp sensation which she described as ‘a million times worse’ than giving birth.
‘There was no buildup, no warning signs, no cause, no reasoning. It was literally the most spontaneous attack of pain you can imagine,’ Mrs Welsh told the NZHerald.
Stacey Welsh, 33, (pictured) was drinking a glass of juice when she felt the most ‘excruciating pain’ she has ever experienced
She initially thought the mystery pain stemmed from an abscess, but when dental X-Rays came back clear, she booked in to see a doctor.
There, she was diagnosed with chronic pain condition trigeminal neuralgia, which is caused by injury to the trigeminal nerve, in the back of the skull.
The nerve is responsible for carrying sensations from the face to the brain, with symptoms of the disorder including sporadic, sudden burning or shock-like facial pain that can last anywhere from a few seconds to two minutes per episode.
‘The GP put me on some medication and then I went back again twice that week and then ended up in Queenstown Hospital, threatening to cut my own face off, that’s how bad the pain was,’ she said.
To ease the pain, Mrs Welsh is on nerve blocker medication, but she still occasionally experiences flare ups – and will ultimately need invasive surgery to eradicate the agonising sensation.
The medication, while helpful, has impacted her ability to carry out everyday activities as the drugs leave her constantly groggy and affect her balance.
The rare case has surprised doctors, who say the condition typically affects much older women.
Mrs Welsh says the disorder has taken over her life as her children – aged between 10 months and 14 years old – struggle to grasp the notices the changes they have observed in their once energetic mother who can no longer do everyday tasks
The mother-of-six is on nerve blocker medication which has impacted her ability to balance and has left her constantly ‘groggy’
She has been forced to place her goals of becoming a midwife aside as she battles to return to health.
‘I’m in pain every single day, just not to the extent I was [before the diagnosis]. My life is on hold. I can’t wake up to my 10-month-old daughter in the night. My goal was to be a midwife and now that’s on hold too,’ she said.
Mrs Welsh is having an MRI next week to assess her available options to manager her condition.
If she is eligible for surgery, it will cost $45,000 to be done privately – but will be much a shorter process than the public system- allowing for a faster return to her normal routine with her children.
Friend Leanne Upfold has launched a GiveALittle page to help the family-of-eight raise money for the mother’s treatment, which has so far raised $28,016 of the goal.
The local community has rallied around the family, helping with childcare, school drop offs, and meal deliveries, as the mother grapples with the debilitating bouts of pain.
Mrs Welsh said she is extremely grateful for the ‘amazing’ support they family have received during this difficult time.
WHAT IS TRIGEMINAL NEURALGIA?
Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal or 5th cranial nerve, one of the most widely distributed nerves in the head, which carries sensations from the face to the brain.
There are two types of TN – the typical form of the disorder (called ‘Type 1’ or TN1) or the ‘atypical’ form (called “Type 2” or TN2), which are characterised by different types of pain.
The condition is caused by compression on the nerve, which causes the wearing away or damage to the protective coating around the nerve, producing pain across the face.
Depending on the type of TN, the pain may range from sudden, severe, and stabbing to a more constant, aching, burning sensation.
The intense flashes of pain can be triggered by vibration or contact with the cheek (such as when shaving, washing the face, or applying makeup), brushing teeth, eating, drinking, talking, or being exposed to the wind. The pain may affect a small area of the face or may spread.
Both forms of pain may occur in the same person, sometimes at the same time. The intensity of pain can be physically and mentally incapacitating.
The condition is more common in women than men and typically occurs in people over 50.
Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes