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Trigeminal Neuralgia: What You Should Know

If you have ever experienced nerve pain, you know how debilitating it can be. Trigeminal neuralgia is a type of nerve pain that affects your face, typically in your jaw or cheek. The pain can be sharp or feel like a burning sensation. It can be so severe that you have difficulty eating or drinking.

Trigeminal Neuralgia at UPMC in central Pa.

Most flare-ups begin with tingling or numbness in your face and the pain can come and go. During a flare-up, the bursts of pain are more frequent and almost never stop. The intensity of the pain can make your day-to-day activities unbearable, but the condition itself is not life threatening.

What causes trigeminal neuralgia?

The most common cause of trigeminal neuralgia is a blood vessel pressing against your trigeminal nerve. Rare causes include multiple sclerosis or tumors. This nerve condition is most common in people above 50-years-old and is more common in women than men.

What are the symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia?

There are multiple symptoms:

  • Pain in the cheek or jaw – typically comes and goes and is mostly one-sided.
  • Absence of pain between flare-ups.
  • Pain that feels like electric shocks or stabbing.
  • Pain triggered by touching, eating, brushing your teeth or other factors like wind.
  • Anxiety from the thought of the pain returning.

How is trigeminal neuralgia diagnosed?

Trigeminal neuralgia can be diagnosed by your primary care provider based on your description of your pain. This diagnosis is based on three different factors:

  • Type of pain: Pain related to trigeminal neuralgia is sudden, shock-like, and brief.
  • Location of pain: The pain is mostly in your jaw or cheek.
  • Triggers of pain: It usually occurs after stimulation of your cheeks from things like eating, talking, or brushing your teeth.

If necessary, your provider can order additional tests. These include a neurological exam or an MRI.

Your facial pain could be caused by a number of different conditions, so accurate diagnosis is important.

How is trigeminal neuralgia treated?

Trigeminal neuralgia is treated differently on a case-by-case basis. Treatment typically starts with medications that can help treat your nerve pain. If medications do not work and your pain persists, surgery may be an option. Surgical options for trigeminal neuralgia include procedures that:

  • Relocate or remove blood vessels that are in contact with the trigeminal nerve root to stop the nerve from malfunctioning.
  • Use radiation to damage the trigeminal nerve and reduce or eliminate pain.
  • Use minimally invasive injections to damage the trigeminal nerve and block pain signals.
  • Selectively destroy nerve fibers associated with pain.

Can trigeminal neuralgia be prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent trigeminal neuralgia. If there are certain activities that trigger your pain more than others, they should be avoided when possible.

Although this condition is not fatal, it can disrupt your life. Talk to your primary care provider about your trigeminal neuralgia pain. Your provider can determine the best pain management method for you.

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