Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensation from the face to the brain. Trigeminal neuralgia pain can be triggered by:
- Shaving your face
- Brushing your teeth
- Applying makeup
- Being exposed to wind
The attacks vary in severity, frequency, and duration, often becoming worse over time.
How common is trigeminal neuralgia?
The new cases of trigeminal neuralgia occur at a rate of approximately 12 per 100,000 people per year.
Who gets trigeminal neuralgia?
Trigeminal neuralgia can occur at any age, but is most likely to occur in people over 50. It is more common in women than in men.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be caused by damage to the trigeminal nerve’s protective coating, called the myelin sheath, as a result of multiple sclerosis or a blood vessel pressing on the nerve. Symptoms can also be caused by compression from a tumor or a large tangle of arteries and veins, called an arteriovenous malformation, but these causes are not common.
How is trigeminal neuralgia diagnosed?
Trigeminal neuralgia is mainly diagnosed based on your symptoms and medical history, along with the results from physical and neurological examinations. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to determine if a tumor or multiple sclerosis is the cause.
Trigeminal neuralgia is characterized by prolonged or recurring facial pain. Typically, attacks stop for a period of time and then return, with fewer and shorter pain-free periods as the condition progresses.
Experiencing facial pain does not necessarily mean you have trigeminal neuralgia, as many conditions can cause facial pain. Contact a medical professional if you are experiencing symptoms.
A trigeminal nerve block is a safe and relatively noninvasive method of treating trigeminal neuralgia pain.
Medications such as anticonvulsants or tricyclic antidepressants may be used to treat trigeminal neuralgia. If pain persists or side effects become intolerable, surgery may be recommended.
A rhizotomy is a minimally invasive procedure that can be used to treat trigeminal neuralgia. In a rhizotomy, various techniques are used by the surgeon to damage the trigeminal nerve fibers just enough to block pain while minimizing the resulting facial numbness.
If pain is caused by a blood vessel compressing the trigeminal nerve, the surgeon may be able to move the blood vessel through microvascular decompression. This is an open surgical procedure that can eliminate or reduce pain with minimal risk of causing facial numbness.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be used to treat trigeminal neuralgia without the need for an incision. In this procedure, beams of radiation are used to damage the trigeminal nerve, reducing or eliminating pain.