Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a disorder of the trigeminal nerve (fifth cranial nerve) that causes severe, shooting pain along one side of the face. It senses touch, pain, pressure, and temperature. It also helps make saliva and tears.
In TN, pain usually lasts for a few seconds and may come and go for days, weeks, or months. It may go into remission or stop completely for months or years. Over time, though, the attacks usually become more frequent and more severe. Attacks can be brought on by chewing, washing, shaving, touching, or even a breeze on the face.
In most cases, the cause is unknown. Sometimes an abnormally formed artery or vein running too close to the nerve and compressing it proves to be the culprit. Rarely, TN may occur as a symptom of another underlying disorder, such as:
These factors increase your chance of developing TN. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:
Age: 50 or older
Sex: female (a slightly higher risk)
The main symptom is searing pain on one side of the face. The pain may be felt inside the mouth or in the lips, cheek, chin, nostril, ear, or near the eye. Rarely, pain may occur in the eye or forehead. Twitching or wincing sometimes accompanies the pain.
The pain is typically sudden, severe, and stabbing. Even though the pain is often brief (less than two minutes) it can reoccur hundreds of times per day. Attacks, which can become totally disabling, may seem to occur at random or be triggered by extremes of temperature, washing, shaving, touching, or tickling the face. There are usually no symptoms between attacks, except perhaps a dull ache.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Tests may be performed to help diagnosis underlying conditions that may lead to TN. These may include:
—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the head
—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the head
You may be given the antiseizure medication (eg,
). This medicine may reduce pain and is sometimes used to help diagnose the disorder.
Treatment usually begins with medication. If medication fails, other options are available.
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Updated February 2009. Accessed February 13, 2009.
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Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a