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What is trigeminal neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a chronic pain condition that causes extreme, sporadic, sudden burning or shock-like face pain.

Each episode can last anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or two.

The intensity of the pain can be physically and mentally incapacitating. Despite this, it is not life threatening.

Risk factors and causes

Although it can occur at any age, TN occurs most frequently in people over 50.

It is more common in women than in men.

Some evidence suggests that the disorder is genetic because of inherited blood vessel pattern formation.

Causes

The cause of TN, also known as tic douloureux, is presumed to be a blood vessel placing pressure on the trigeminal nerve. This nerve, also called the 5th cranial nerve, is responsible for providing a sense of feeling to the face.

TN may also be part of the normal aging process.

In other cases, it is associated with another disorder, such as multiple sclerosis or disorders that involve damage to the myelin sheath, a coating around nerves that allows them to transmit signals quickly.

Symptoms

Symptoms of TN include:

  • Pain that is felt on one side of the jaw or cheek
  • Pain that lasts for days, weeks or months at a time, then disappears for months or years
  • Tingling or numbing sensation a few days before an episode
  • Pain that worsens over time with shorter pain-free periods in between
  • Pain that is triggered by contact with the cheek or vibrations, such as brushing teeth, washing the face, eating, drinking and talking

Treatment

Glycerol rhizotomy

During this procedure, a medication called Glycerol is injected onto a branch of the trigeminal nerve to help stop or lessen the pain.

Microvascular decompression

If the TN does not respond to glycerol rhizotomy, a microvascular decompression may be done.

During this procedure, the trigeminal nerve and the blood vessel affecting it are separated to reduce to stop the painful sensations.

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