Unless you’ve been diagnosed with trigeminal nerualgia, you probably don’t know much about this chronic, painful condition. And though this illness is rare, it can lead to a number of complications, which disrupt daily life and affect overall health and wellness. Keep reading to learn more about trigeminal neuralgia, including information on symptoms, causes, treatment options and more.
Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic condition characterized by severe pain in the facial area. In patients with this condition, the problem lies in the trigeminal nerve, which alerts the brain to pain and other sensations in the face. Damage to this nerve can result in moderate to severe discomfort when the face is stimulated, e.g., when shaving, putting on makeup, washing the face, brushing the teeth, eating, etc.
In some cases, even the mildest sensations, such as talking or stepping into a breeze, can lead to intense, jolting, or searing pain. Initially, patients may experience pain that is mild and short-lived; however, as the condition progresses, longer, more frequent attacks may occur.
Symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia can differ on an individual basis, but typically include the following:
- Brief or prolonged episodes of intense pain. Trigeminal neuralgia is pain is often described as stabbing, jolting or sensations akin to electric shock.
- Mild twinges of pain in the facial area, especially in the lips, gums, teeth, cheeks and jaw, but sometimes in the eyes and/or forehead.
- Pain that affects only one side of the face at a time.
- Pain that isn’t relived through the use of pain-relievers.
- Pain that radiates outward from one spot.
What Causes Trigeminal Neuralgia?
This condition is caused by damage or dysfunction in the trigeminal nerve. In most cases, the nerve’s function is disrupted due to contact or pressure from an artery or vein. This pressure causes the trigeminal nerve to malfunction, which results in pain and other symptoms.
Other causes of trigeminal neuralgia include those listed below:
- Aging. Since this condition is more common among people over the age 50, dysfunction of the trigeminal nerve is often attributed to the natural aging process.
- Multiple sclerosis. Trigeminal neuralgia can be a complication of certain diseases, including multiple sclerosis and other conditions associated with damage to the nerves.
- Tumor. In rare instances, trigeminal neuralgia is symptomatic of a tumor pressing against the trigeminal nerve. Also less common, this condition is the result of lesions or abnormalities in the brain.
Treating Trigeminal Neuralgia
In the beginning stages of treatment, trigeminal neuralgia is typically addressed with medications, which, for some people, are sufficient in treating and preventing pain and other symptoms. In most cases, these medications include anticonvulsant and antispasmodic drugs, which relax the muscles, relieve pain, and address the way in which the brain receives and processes pain signals.
In patients whose symptoms are not relieved through the use of medications, surgery is often necessary in treating this condition. Trigeminal neuralgia surgery can include a number of surgical methods, including those designed to remove tumors and repair lesions, as well as those used to relieve pressure caused by veins or arteries.
Trigeminal neuralgia surgery can involve the use of radiation, balloon compression methods, injections and various other techniques, which are designed to relieve pain and discomfort, prevent a worsening of symptoms, and enhance overall quality of life.
Living with Trigeminal Neuralgia
Living with this condition can be challenging, to say the least. Thankfully, through medications, surgery and other approaches, help is available. To help patients cope with the psychological and emotional effects of trigeminal neuralgia, counseling, support groups and open communication with friends and family members is recommended.
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