Trigeminal Neuralgia

Definition

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a disorder of the trigeminal nerve (fifth cranial nerve) that causes severe, shooting pain along one side of the face. The trigeminal nerve senses touch, pain, pressure, and temperature. It also helps make saliva and tears.

The Trigeminal Nerve
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In TN, pain usually lasts for less than a second to a few seconds and may come and go for days, weeks, months, or years. It may go into remission or stop completely for months or years. Over time, though, the attacks may become more frequent and more severe.

Causes

In most cases, the cause is unknown. In some cases, it may be caused by an abnormally formed artery or vein near the nerve. The blood vessel can compress the nerve and cause problems. Rarely, TN may occur as a symptom of another underlying disorder, such as:

Risk Factors

TN is more common in women aged 50 years or older. Having certain medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis , or high blood pressure may increase your risk of TN.

Symptoms

The main symptom is searing pain on one side of the face. The pain may be felt inside the mouth or in the lips, cheek, chin, nostril, ear, or near the eye. Rarely, pain may occur in the eye or forehead. Twitching or wincing sometimes accompanies the pain.

The pain is typically sudden, severe, and stabbing. Even though the pain is brief, usually less than two minutes, it can reoccur hundreds of times a day. Attacks can become totally disabling. They may seem to occur at random or be triggered by extremes of temperature, washing, shaving, touching, or tickling the face. There are usually no symptoms between attacks, except perhaps a dull ache.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may have an electrophysiologic test called a trigeminal reflex test. Other tests, such as a CT scan or MRI scan can take evaluate the head and surrounding structures.

You may be given antiseizure medication to help diagnose the disorder.

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:

Medications

Your doctor may recommend:

  • Antiseizure medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Nasal sprays
  • Injections

Surgery

Surgery may be an option if medications fail to relieve symptoms. Microvascular decompression removes an artery or tumor that is pressing on the nerve. Other procedures may be used to cut the trigeminal nerve.

Prevention

There are no current guidelines to prevent TN.

Revisions

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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