Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition affecting the cranial nerves, in particular the trigeminal nerve. This nerve carries sensation from the face to the brain. If you are suffering with the condition, mild touches to the face including brushing teeth or putting on makeup will be felt as excruciating pain. This can sometimes be experienced in short mild episodes although the condition, if left untreated may cause longer more frequent bouts of pain. Typically, this condition affects men and women over 50 but research suggests women are more prone to developing the condition than men.
Symptoms of Trigeminal neuralgia include:
- Bouts of pain lasting from a few second to several minutes
- Episodes of shooting/electric shock type pain
- Chewing or touching the face may cause spontaneous episodes of severe pain
- Pain episodes may last days, weeks, months or longer
- Attacks become more frequent and intense with time
- Pain in areas supplied by the trigeminal nerve (cheek, jaw, teeth, gums, lips)
- Constant aching/burning that may occur before an episode of pain
- Pain affecting one side of the face (it can affect both)
The pain caused with trigeminal neuralgia is often due to irritation of the nerve. This is normally contact between an artery or vein and the trigeminal nerve around the base of the brain. This compression of the nerve as it enters the brain causes the nerve to not fire correctly resulting in symptoms.
Secondary to this, presence of a tumour may also cause pressure on the nerve. MS also causes damage to the myelin sheaths and trigeminal neuralgia in young adults may be an early sign of MS. Some may also experience trigeminal neuralgia due to a brain lesion or other underlying abnormality, in other cases surgical injuries/stroke or facial trauma may be responsible for triggering the condition.
There are a variety of triggers that may set off the pain of trigeminal neuralgia, including:
- Touching your face
- Brushing teeth
- Encountering a breeze
Treatment for trigeminal neuralgia usually begins with medication, often those who are prescribed a medication usually do not need any further treatment. However, in some scenarios over time, patients may start experience unpleasant side effects and they may stop responding to medication. For those who require a secondary treatment this will consist of injections or surgery.
- Medications – To treat the condition, doctors may prescribe medications to reduce the pain signals sent to the brain. This may involve anticonvulsants, antispasmodic agents to try and reduce the pain symptoms.
- Surgery – if medication and conservative management do not provide adequate relief of symptoms surgery is often the next option. Within that there are a few different ways this may be completed.
If you require surgery you will be advised about the procedures if and when necessary, these are often the two main options:
- Microvascular decompression
- Brain stereotactic radiosurgery
If you have any symptoms that may be similar to this condition you should book an appointment with medical professional as soon as possible to avoid the condition worsening.