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Trigeminal Neuralgia

What is trigeminal neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensation from your face to your brain. If you have trigeminal neuralgia, even mild stimulation of your face — such as from brushing your teeth, shaving, putting on makeup, smiling or encountering a breeze — may trigger a jolt of excruciating pain.

Trigeminal neuralgia can occur as a result of aging, or it can be related to a swollen blood vessel, multiple sclerosis or a similar disorder that damages the myelin sheath protecting certain nerves. Less commonly, trigeminal neuralgia can be caused by a tumor compressing the trigeminal nerve. Some people may experience trigeminal neuralgia due to a brain lesion or other abnormalities. In other cases, a cause can't be found.

Common symptoms

Symptoms may include one or more of these patterns:

  • Episodes of several attacks lasting days, weeks, months or longer — some people have periods when they experience no pain
  • Episodes of severe, shooting or jabbing pain that may feel like an electric shock
  • Occasional twinges of mild pain
  • Pain in areas supplied by the trigeminal nerve, including the cheek, jaw, teeth, gums, lips or less often the eye and forehead

How is trigeminal neuralgia diagnosed?

Trigeminal neuralgia affects women more often than men, and it’s more likely to occur in people ages 50 and older. Your physician will diagnose trigeminal neuralgia mainly based on your description of the pain including: type, location or triggers. Your physician may conduct tests to diagnose trigeminal neuralgia and determine underlying causes for your condition, including:

How is trigeminal neuralgia treated?

Because of the variety of treatment options available, having trigeminal neuralgia doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed to a life of pain. Physicians usually can effectively manage trigeminal neuralgia with medications, alternative medicine, injections or surgery.

Surgical options include cutting or stimulating the trigeminal nerve and removing a tumor or blood vessel that is causing pressure. Microvascular decompression is a specialized neurosurgical option that has provided relief to many patients. Other less invasive surgical procedures are effective for some cases of trigeminal neuralgia, and some can be performed on an outpatient basis. Your healthcare team will determine the best treatment for your condition.

The surgeons at Rex Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists can help you decide on the treatment that's best for you. They specialize in minimally invasive spine surgery and are experienced in diagnosing and treating disc disorders and disease, using the newest techniques for relieving pain and returning you to an active lifestyle. To make an appointment at Rex Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists, call 919-784-1410.