Trigeminal Neuralgia is a chronic disorder that causes pain in the face. In most cases, this pain is bilateral and feels like a severe toothache in the face, radiating from the trigeminal nerve. It can also be unilateral, depending on which side of your brain got injured in a stroke or other injury. Below is what you need to know about trigeminal neuralgia.
What Causes Trigeminal Neuralgia?
Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic disorder that usually affects older adults. It can be triggered by trauma to the trigeminal nerve or by damage to the brain. The most common form of the disorder is called tic douloureux, characterized by episodes of severe facial pain. This pain can last for seconds or minutes but can also be present for months on end. Trigeminal neuralgia comes on suddenly and involves numbness, tingling, and nerve pain. Some people have a history of migraines or facial pain, but this is not necessarily the case. Many people with trigeminal neuralgia have no prior history of facial pain. In some people, the pain is constant and can occur at any time.
How Is Trigeminal Neuralgia Diagnosed?
Trigeminal neuralgia can get diagnosed based on your signs and symptoms. They may perform a neurological exam but will not necessarily immediately assume it is trigeminal neuralgia. A healthcare professional will listen to your complaints carefully and perform several tests, including an MRI. Trigeminal neuralgia is not usually diagnosed by one test alone.
Is Trigeminal Neuralgia Serious?
Trigeminal neuralgia causes significant pain and can be very disabling. However, it is usually not serious. Between 20% and 50% of people develop trigeminal neuralgia when they are over 40 years old. It is more common in women than men.
How Is Trigeminal Neuralgia Treated?
Treatment for trigeminal neuralgia typically involves medications that reduce the activity of the nerve, help of an expert for pain relief, or medications that reduce pain in other ways. Between 30% and 75% of people find immediate relief with medication. If you do not find relief or the pain has not improved after a few months, you may need surgery. The three main types of surgery for treating trigeminal neuralgia are microvascular decompression, glycerol rhizotomy, and gamma knife. Microvascular decompression involves removing the trigeminal nerve root causing the pain. Glycerol rhizotomy involves destroying a small area of the trigeminal nerve root that is causing pain. The gamma knife is a minimally invasive treatment for trigeminal neuralgia that can effectively treat several cases.
How Can One Cope With Trigeminal Neuralgia?
The good news is that trigeminal neuralgia is not life-threatening. It can be very debilitating, so coping with the pain will take some work. It’s important to learn all you can about your condition and seek treatment if possible. Suppose you are considering undergoing surgery for your trigeminal neuralgia. In that case, it’s helpful to look at before and after photos or ask for referrals for people who have had the same procedure. It is important to remain patient and believe that you can live with trigeminal neuralgia. Most people do. If surgery is not an option, it is also useful to look at alternative treatments for trigeminal neuralgia.
Prognosis for Trigeminal Neuralgia
Trigeminal neuralgia usually resolves over time with treatment. In some cases, you may require surgery. In most cases, symptoms go away over time as the symptoms of surgery wear off. It is important to understand that trigeminal neuralgia is not life-threatening and that it can be managed. Interestingly, people who develop trigeminal neuralgia late in life may find that treatment or medication can be very effective. For example, 40% of people who developed trigeminal neuralgia at 80 years old found the treatment effective.
Can Trigeminal Neuralgia Be Prevented?
Currently, there are a variety of treatments for trigeminal neuralgia. People who have a family history of migraines or facial pain should be aware that they may have a greater risk of developing this condition. However, there is no way to anticipate whether someone will have trigeminal neuralgia. People with a history of migraines or facial pain should keep their physician informed of any changes in their condition that could be trigeminal neuralgia.
Does Insurance Cover Treatment for Trigeminal Neuralgia?
Although trigeminal neuralgia can be treated, it may not be covered by insurance. There is currently no cure for trigeminal neuralgia. However, patients should discuss the possibility of insurance coverage for treatment with a medical professional. You can also check out the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association to learn about national programs for trigeminal neuralgia.
Does Trigeminal Neuralgia Have Other Forms?
Trigeminal neuralgia is just one form of trigeminal neuralgia. It is estimated that 80% of people who get trigeminal neuralgia will get another form at some point in their lives. Trigeminal neuralgia occurs when there is a complication in the nerve after a trauma or complication in the brain. Trigeminal neuralgia first affects the face, but many patients have other forms of trigeminal neuralgia. Below are some examples of some other complications that can occur with trigeminal neuralgia.
What Happens When Trigeminal Neuralgia Gets Worse?
Trigeminal neuralgia has no known cause, so it is impossible to prevent. However, if you notice that your condition worsens, the cause of your condition may be different. Many causes can worsen trigeminal neuralgia. Some causes include:
- Tumor. The more common cause of trigeminal neuralgia is a tumor of the nerve. However, there are some rare cases where instead of a tumor of the nerve, there is an infection of the nerve. This infection causes swelling of the nerve, leading to trigeminal neuralgia.
- Vascular problem. Vascular problems can cause trigeminal neuralgia. This is when the blood vessels surrounding the nerve break. The blood vessels around the nerve may be broken (causing bleeding), or there may be a problem with the blood supply to the nerve (low pressure). Either one can cause trigeminal neuralgia. Another cause of vascular problems is arteriosclerosis, narrowing blood vessels due to plaque buildup.
- Aneurysm. An aneurysm is a ballooning of the blood vessel. It can be severe because it will lead to bleeding if not treated right away.
- Diabetes. Trigeminal neuralgia can occur as a complication for people who have diabetes. Diabetes causes damage to the blood vessels. If this damage occurs, it can cause swelling of the nerve.
Trigeminal neuralgia is not fatal, so you should get treatment if possible. Treatment can include medication or surgery, or both. If you are suffering from trigeminal neuralgia, it is important to educate yourself on your condition and treatments available. Just because trigeminal neuralgia cannot be cured doesn’t mean that it should rule your life.