CHICAGO — The teenager said the stabbing pains in her face felt like electrical shocks that lasted 10 to 30 seconds and struck 20 to 30 times a day.
Don't miss these Health stories
More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?
Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a 100 percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.
- Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
- Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
- CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
- What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says
- More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?
Her doctors diagnosed trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve disorder sometimes called “suicide disease” because of the excruciating and dispiriting pain it causes.
Doctors tried painkillers, then stronger medication, but in the end, a cure proved more simple: The young woman removed the metal stud from her pierced tongue.
Two days later her pain vanished.
The account in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association is the latest documentation of complications, some life-threatening, linked to tongue piercing.
Other problems include tetanus, heart infections, brain abscess, chipped teeth and receding gums. One woman developed so much scar tissue that it resembled what she called a “second tongue.”
In the newly reported case, the young Italian woman’s mouth jewelry apparently irritated a nerve running along the jaw under her tongue. That nerve is connected to the trigeminal nerve, one of the largest in the head.
“There are people who have been dropped to their knees” by trigeminal neuralgia, said Alana Greca, a registered nurse and director of patient support for the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association. “That’s how intense and how horrendous the pain can be.”
The teenager is lucky her pain disappeared, Greca said.
“Certainly, this was an isolated case, an extremely rare complication of this kind of piercing,” said Dr. Marcelo Galarza, a neurosurgeon at Villa Maria Cecilia Hospital in Ravenna, Italy, who reported the case to the journal.
The tongue is “a particularly dangerous place to pierce” because it is rich in blood vessels that can spread infection to major organs and because it is near important nerves and the upper airway, he said.
Jeanne Fritch, owner of Personal Art, a piercing and tattooing studio in Lake Station, Ind., said she has not heard of a similar case in her 21 years in business.
Fritch recommended people interested in tongue piercing see only professional, experienced piercers and use only “implant grade” metal jewelry. Good mouth hygiene while the tongue heals also is important, Fritch said.
Stefania Fraccalvieri, the patient in the report, is now 21 and a student in Rome. Her advice to people considering tongue piercing: “Don’t do that. My experience was so bad. I was so sick and now I feel much better.”
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.