What is Trigeminal Neuralgia and How Can it Be Treated?


Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a disorder of the fifth cranial nerve, also called the trigeminal nerve. This nerve contains sensory capabilities (touch, pain, temperature, and pressure) and is responsible for motor functions such as biting, swallowing, and chewing. Trigeminal neuralgia causes severe, shock-like shooting pain along the path of this nerve, usually on one side of the face.

Pain usually lasts seconds to minutes and can be intermittent over days, months, or even years. The pain comes in electric-like spasms that can be triggered by every day activities, such as shaving, chewing, washing, brushing your teeth, touching, or even something as benign as a light breeze on your face. The pain resulting from TN can be felt in the cheek, chin, ear, nostril, near the eye, or inside the mouth.

The cause of TN is not known, but in some cases, an abnormally formed blood vessel can compress the nerve and cause the pain. In a few cases, pain in the trigeminal nerve can be a symptom of multiple sclerosis , shingles ( Herpes zoster ), or a tumor in the brain or head. Those over the age of 50 seem to be at a higher risk of developing this condition.

TN attacks can occur hundreds of times per day, completely disabling those that experience them. To determine the cause of this disorder, your doctor may order a CT scan or an MRI. The first treatment is usually the administration of an antiseizure medication, which may help to alleviate pain. If medication is ineffective, surgery to remove an abnormal vessel, tumor, or cut the trigeminal nerve may be a viable option. In older patients, other treatments, such as stereotactic radiosurgery , may be effective.

Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center has state-of-the-art technology, resources, and expertise available on-site to help treat TN and other painful disorders. To learn more about Gamma Knife or the other treatment options available to help alleviate the pain associated with trigeminal neuralgia, contact us at (702) 731-8000.

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