Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that causes mild to severe facial pain along the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is the largest cranial nerve and it is made up of three major nerve branches: the ophthalmic nerve, maxillary nerve, and mandibular nerve. When combined, all three nerves are responsible for motor functions and sensations in the face. For patients with trigeminal neuralgia, small, simple tasks like chewing food, brushing teeth, or speaking can cause debilitating pain. While this condition is generally more common in women than men and typically occurs in patients over the age of 50, it can be present in both genders and people of all ages. Treatment for trigeminal neuralgia depends on the severity of the condition, but generally speaking, medications, injections, and other therapies may be recommended to mitigate facial pain.
Trigeminal neuralgia is caused by damage or injury to the trigeminal nerve. Most physicians believe this condition is caused by a vein or artery compressing the nerve, but other possible causes include deterioration to the protective sheath of the trigeminal nerve. Despite these differences, there are several factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing this condition. Age, multiple sclerosis, and less commonly, a tumor, may cause trigeminal neuralgia. Brain lesions, facial abnormalities, surgical injuries, stroke, or facial trauma could also cause this condition.
Trigeminal neuralgia typically produces severe, shooting pains that feel like an electric shock to the face. Other characteristics of this condition include pain that is triggered by shaving, light touch, eating, drinking, brushing the teeth, talking, putting on makeup, smiling, and washing the face. Patients may also experience bouts of pain that last several days, weeks, or months; constant aching in the face; pain that increases in frequency and intensity, and pain that is felt in one area of the face before it spreads to another area. Patients with facial pain that recurs and lasts several weeks should seek treatment from the pain management specialists at TriState Pain Institute.
Because trigeminal neuralgia is a complex condition, a number of conservative, alternative, and interventional pain treatments may be considered to effectively reduce a patient’s pain symptoms. If patients stop responding to over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription pain medications, steroid injections, Botox injections, and nerve blocks may be recommended to control pain. Minimally invasive surgery may also be suggested to patients who have found little or no relief from interventional pain care options.