Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal Neuralgia
Trigeminal Neuralgia

Overview Of Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN) is a nerve disorder. It causes a stabbing or electric shock-like pain in parts of the face.

Commonly Associated With

Tic douloureux; Cranial neuralgia; Facial pain – trigeminal; Facial neuralgia; Trifacial neuralgia; Chronic pain – trigeminal; Microvascular decompression – trigeminal

Causes Of Trigeminal Neuralgia

The pain of TN comes from the trigeminal nerve. This nerve carries the sensations of touch and pain from the face, eyes, sinuses, and mouth to the brain.

Trigeminal neuralgia may be caused by:

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) or other diseases that damage the protective covering myelin of the nerves
  • Pressure on the trigeminal nerve from a swollen blood vessel or tumor
  • Injury to the trigeminal nerve, such as from trauma to the face or from oral or sinus surgery
  • Often, no exact cause is found. TN usually affects adults above age 50 years, but it can occur at any age. Women are affected more often than men. When TN affects people younger than 40, it is often due to MS or a tumor.

Symptoms Of Trigeminal Neuralgia

Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Very painful, sharp electric-like spasms that usually last from several seconds to less than 2 minutes, but can become constant.
  • Pain is usually only on one side of the face, often around the eye, cheek, and lower part of the face.
  • There is usually no loss of sensation or movement of the affected part of the face.
  • Pain may be triggered by touch or sounds.

Painful attacks of trigeminal neuralgia can be triggered by common, everyday activities, such as:

  • Talking
  • Smiling
  • Brushing teeth
  • Chewing
  • Drinking
  • Eating
  • Exposure to hot or cold temperature
  • Touching the face
  • Shaving
  • Wind
  • Applying make-up
  • The right side of the face is mostly affected. In some cases, TN goes away on its own.

Exams & Tests

A brain and nervous system (neurologic) examination is often normal.

Tests that are done to look for the cause may include:

  • Complete blood count
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
  • MRI of the head
  • MRA (angiography) of brain
  • Eye examination (to rule out intraocular disease)
  • CT scan of the head (who cannot undergo MRI)
  • Trigeminal reflex testing (in rare cases)

Treatment Of Trigeminal Neuralgia

Your primary care doctor, a neurologist, or a pain specialist may be involved in your care.

Certain medicines sometimes help reduce pain and the rate of attacks. These medicines include:

  • Anti-seizure medicines, such as carbamazepine
  • Muscle relaxants, such as baclofen
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Short-term pain relief occurs through surgery but is associated with the risk of complications. One surgery is called microvascular decompression (MVD) or the Jannetta procedure. During surgery, a sponge-like material is placed between the nerve and the blood vessel that is pressing on the nerve.

Trigeminal nerve block (injection) with local anesthetic and steroid is an excellent treatment option to rapidly relieve pain while waiting for medicines to take effect.

Other techniques involve destroying or cutting parts of the trigeminal nerve root. Methods used include:

  • Radiofrequency ablation (uses high-frequency heat)
  • Injection of glycerol or alcohol
  • Balloon micro compression
  • Radiosurgery (uses high power energy)
  • If a tumor is the cause of TN, surgery is done to remove it.