Trigeminal neuralgia: Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Trigeminal neuralgia is a nerve disorder of the face. It causes abrupt, searing facial pain, especially in the lower face and jaw and around the nose, ears, eyes, or lips.

Also known as tic douloureaux,it is thought to be one of the most painful human conditions.

Neuralgia refers to severe pain along the course of a nerve, due to nerve irritation or damage. Trigeminal neuralgia affects the trigeminal nerve, one of the most wide-reaching nerves in the head.

In the United States (U.S.), approximately 14,000 people develop the condition annually, and 140,000 people currently live with the condition. It is thought to affect about one million people worldwide.

Fast facts on trigeminal neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is an extremely painful condition that affects the facial, or trigeminal, nerve.

It affects approximately 14,000 people in the United States (U.S.).

The pain will usually be severe and occur on one side of the face.

Trigeminal neuralgia is often caused by blood vessels applying pressure to the root of the trigeminal nerve.

It is treated with anticonvulsant medication or a range of surgeries.

What is trigeminal neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia pain
Trigeminal neuralgia is one of the most intense pains a person can experience.

Trigeminal neuralgia is a type of non-nociceptive pain.

Pain can be nociceptive and non-nociceptive.

Nociceptive pain happens when an external stimulus triggers specific pain receptors in the nervous system, for example, the pain caused by a burn.

Non-nociceptive pain results from damage or irritation to the nerves or a fault in the nervous system. The nerves themselves are sending pain messages to the brain.

Neuralgia is a type of non-nociceptive pain, and trigeminal neuralgia is non-nociceptive pain caused by the trigeminal or 5th cranial nerve in the face.

People with neuralgia describe it as a short-lived but intense burning or stabbing pain. It may feel as if the pain is shooting along the course of the affected nerve. Although the pain is brief, trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic condition, which gets worse in time.

Bouts of pain can last a few minutes, usually on one side of the face.

Trigeminal neuralgia is twice as common in women than men, and it is more likely after the age of 50 years.

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Sometimes the cause remains unknown.

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Diagnosis

If an individual’s symptoms indicate trigeminal neuralgia, a doctor will examine their face to determine the affected areas.

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may help eliminate other conditions with similar symptoms, such as tooth decay, a tumor, or sinusitis. However, an MRI is unlikely to show the exact cause of nerve irritation.

Treatment

The main treatments for trigeminal neuralgia involve prescribed medications and surgery.

Medications

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