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Your Complete Guide to Trigeminal Neuralgia

July 03, 2019

It's described as the most excruciating pain known to humanity.

For most patient, the pain seems to begin out of nowhere. For others, the pain could follow dental surgery, a blow to the face, or a car accident. Regardless of when or what cause the pain to start, living with trigeminal neuralgia is miserable. 

What is it?

Trigeminal neuralgia is caused by irritation of the trigeminal nerve, which has nerve branches into the forehead, cheeks, and lower jaw. The pain is usually limited to one side of the face and typically involves the lower face and jaw, although sometimes it affects the area around the nose and above the eye. 

The three branches of the trigeminal nerve are responsible. 

What are the symptoms?

Trigeminal neuralgia pain can range anywhere from an intense, stabbing, electric shock-like pain to a more constant, aching, burning sensation. These intense flashes of pain can be triggered by:

  • Vibration or contact with the cheek (shaving, washing the face, or applying makeup)
  • Brushing teeth
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Talking
  • Wind exposure

The condition is characterized by attacks that stop for a period of time and then return. It can be progressive, with attacks often worsening over time, and fewer and shorter pain-free periods before they recur. Eventually, the pain-free intervals disappear, and medication to control the pain becomes less effective. 

The disorder can be debilitating. Due to the intensity of the pain, some individuals may avoid daily activities or social contact because they fear an impending attack. 

Who is affected?

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the incidence of new cases of trigeminal neuralgia is approximately 12 per 100,000 people per year. Though it can occur at any age, including infancy, it tends to occur most often in people over age 50 and is more common in women. 

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosing trigeminal neuralgia is primarily done by assessing a patient's history and description of symptoms, along with results from physical and neurological examinations. Patients with trigeminal neuralgia eventually will undergo an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to rule out a tumor or multiple sclerosis as the cause of their pain.

What treatment options are available?

Patients are generally prescribed medications that can relieve trigeminal neuralgia pain in more than 80 percent of cases. If patients stop responding to medications or experience side effects, they can consider surgery. 

If the patient is unable to undergo surgery or if an MRI shows a tumor as the underlying cause of trigeminal neuralgia, patients in the Greater Dayton area have a noninvasive, cutting-edge treatment available to them right in their own backyard: Gamma Knife Perfexion, available only at Kettering Health Network locations. 

Gamma Knife Perfexion is not actually a knife. It's a type of radiosurgery, making it a noninvasive procedure with no surgical incision. This advanced radiation treatment uses up to 192 beams of radiation to treat brain tumors. Doctors are able to design treatments customized for each patient's tumor. 

The Gamma Knife Perfexion is the result of more than four decades of extensive research and clinical experience. The treatment offered at Kettering Health Network is the only one in Southwest Ohio and one of only a few in the world. 

The gamma knife offers:

  • Painless, incision-free stereotactic radiosurgery
  • Fast, precise treatment of one or more sites within on session
  • No anesthesia or overnight hospital stay. 

GET RELIEF

Call the Brain & Spine team at 1-855-786-2649.