Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic condition that affects the trigeminal nerve causing pain. This nerve carries sensation from the face to the brain. Even mild stimulation of the face, from brushing the teeth or putting on makeup may cause excruciating pain.
At the beginning it is expressed with short, mild attacks, but with time trigeminal neuralgia can progress, causing longer, more frequent bouts of searing pain. Trigeminal neuralgia affects women more often than men, and it's more likely to occur in people who are older than 50.
There is a variety of treatment options available including medications, injections or surgery.
Trigeminal neuralgia symptoms may include one or more of these patterns:
- Spontaneous attacks of pain or attacks when touching the face, chewing, speaking and brushing teeth
- Twinges of mild pain
- Episodes of severe pain that may feel like an electric shock
- Bouts of pain lasting from a few seconds to several seconds
- Several attacks lasting days, weeks, months or longer
- Pain in the cheek, jaw, teeth, gums, lips, or less often the eye and forehead
- Pain affecting one side of the face
- Pain focused in one spot or spread in a wider pattern
- Attacks of pain that become more frequent and intense over time
In this disease the trigeminal nerve's function is disrupted. Usually, the problem is the contact between a normal blood vessel in this case, an artery or a vein and the trigeminal nerve, at the base of the brain. This contact puts pressure on the nerve and causes it not to function properly.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be a consequence of aging, or it can be related to multiple sclerosis or a similar disorder that damages the myelin sheath protecting certain nerves. Less commonly, trigeminal neuralgia can be caused by a tumor compressing the trigeminal nerve. Some people may experience trigeminal neuralgia due to a brain lesion or other abnormalities. In other cases, a cause can't be found.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be experienced by anybody, but it is most frequent in people older than 50 and people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, because multiple sclerosis damages the myelin that protects the nerves. Women are more likely to get it than men. As it appears, the condition is passed down in families.
The pain itself can be severe and distressing. If left untreated, this may make the patient depressed or anxious. Weight loss and poor mouth hygiene are typical. However, in most cases where the cause is due to pressure from a blood vessel, there are nocomplications affecting the trigeminal nerve itself or affecting the brain.
Because the cause of trigeminal neuralgia is unknown, it cannot be prevented.