The term ‘neuralgia’ refers to pain that travels along the path of a nerve. Neuralgia can affect any nerve in the body. Trigeminal neuralgia (aka tic douloureux) affects the trigeminal nerve.
This nerve carries sensations from your face to your brain. It also helps control jaw movement. Trigeminal neuralgia is often described as one of the most painful conditions one can suffer from. Before this pain gets worse, let’s dive into trigeminal neuralgia and its treatment options.
What is Trigeminal Neuralgia?
To understand this we must first understand where and how it affects us.
Areas Affected by Trigeminal Neuralgia:
The Trigeminal Nerve is the fifth (of 12) cranial nerves. A cranial nerve is one that arises directly from the brain. It divides into three branches and each branch is responsible for sensations felt at a certain part of the face.
The Ophthalmic branch is responsible for sensations near the eyes, the cheek-area is controlled by the Maxillary branch and the Mandibular branch affects the jaw-area.
This is why people suffering from Trigeminal Neuralgia, often mistake it for a headache or a toothache. Human beings have trigeminal nerves on both sides of the face but very rarely does trigeminal neuralgia affect both sides.
Description of The Pain:
The most common description of pain in the trigeminal nerve is ‘electric-shock’ like.
This intense stabbing pain can appear abruptly and repeat itself in waves. It may also be described as throbbing or burning. Left untreated, it could also be constant and linger in the background. Most often there is no visible sign of pain on the face but occasionally the pain may be accompanied by swelling or redness.
There are a number of triggers of trigeminal neuralgia. Even something as small as the wind blowing could trigger the pain.
Daily activities that involve the face such as brushing, smiling, washing your face, eating & drinking can all trigger the pain.
Causes of Trigeminal Neuralgia:
Simply put, irritation to the trigeminal nerve, especially its roots, causes trigeminal neuralgia. This could occur if the blood vessels near the trigeminal nerve, compress it. It could also occur if the protective covering (myelin sheath) of the trigeminal is damaged or deteriorates.
In rare cases, it could be caused by an inflammation of the nerve or compression due to a cyst or tumour.
However, most often there is no explanation for the cause of trigeminal neuralgia though it most commonly affects women over the age of 40.
Diagnosing trigeminal neuralgia is difficult as it can easily be mistaken for a dental problem or other medical conditions that cause facial pain. However, the patient needs to describe his/her symptoms in as much detail as possible including spelling out the kind of pain, its location, frequency etc.
A few physical and neurological examinations will be conducted to eliminate the possibility of other medical disorders. While a diagnostic test such as an MRI can help understand if the trigeminal nerve is irritated, it may not necessarily reveal the source of the irritation.
Trigeminal Neuralgia can be treated through multiple ways.
The first line of approach is medication. Regular pain-killers do not help in this situation and usually stronger medications like anticonvulsants and muscle relaxants are prescribed. The problem however is that most of these medications have serious side-effects and over time lose their effectiveness.
The other option is to do a minimally invasive procedure. One such procedure that we use at Spinalogy Clinic, Pune is called Radiofrequency Ablation of the Gasserian ganglion. Let’s simplify this for you.
Radiofrequency ablation is the process of using radiofrequency waves to destroy pain transmitters. Essentially, these radiofrequency waves burn the pain causing nerves.
A ganglion is a cluster of nerves. The Gasserian Ganglion is the cluster of nerves related to the trigeminal nerve.
During this procedure the patient needs to be awake. Thus it is usually performed under a short-lasting anesthetic with the additional help of a mild sedative.
Through the procedure, the patient may wake up and guide the surgeon on the kind of pain and area where it is being felt.
The procedure will take at the most 2 hours and the patient may return home the same day itself. 6-8weeks post the procedure optimum results can be observed.
Those suffering from Trigeminal Neuralgia need to know that there are a number of ways to manage the pain from this condition.
Trigeminal Neuralgia is not life-threatening and nor does it put you at risk of developing other diseases. People need to know that you suffer from this condition so they are mindful of your pain and your behavior due to it.
At Spinalogy Clinic, Pune, we aim to help you manage your pain with as few side effects as possible. Our team of specialists will discuss with you in detail the treatment approach before finally settling on the best method.