Trigeminal Neuralgia

If you’re experiencing severe facial pain, you may have trigeminal neuralgia. You need expert, compassionate treatment to relieve your symptoms. At St. Joseph’s Hospital, our specialists provide experienced care to help relieve your pain.

What is Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia is chronic facial pain, most often in the lower face and jaw but also in the forehead or cheeks. This condition develops when the trigeminal nerve, which controls facial movement and sensation, has been injured or irritated.

The trigeminal nerve is a pair of cranial nerves that runs on either side of the head and branches into different parts of the face. Trigeminal neuralgia usually affects one side of the face. The pain attacks can be triggered by:

  • Vibrations in the face while talking, smiling or chewing
  • Hot or cold sensations such as eating or drinking hot or cold substances
  • Facial grooming such as brushing teeth, blowing the nose or shaving

What Causes Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia can result from several different problems that damage or wear away the protective coating (myelin sheath) around the trigeminal nerve. The most common causes include:

  • Pressure on the trigeminal nerve caused by a blood vessel, a tumor or an arteriovenous malformation (abnormal growth of blood vessels)
  • Deterioration of the trigeminal nerve’s myelin sheath caused by multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own tissues
  • Injury to the trigeminal nerve caused by sinus or oral surgery, stroke or trauma to the face

Symptoms of Trigeminal Neuralgia

The most noticeable symptom of trigeminal neuralgia is severe, disabling facial pain. The characteristics of these pains include:

  • Sudden, severe, stabbing pain in the face that feels like electric shocks
  • Constant, burning, aching facial pain
  • Facial muscular spasms that are provoked by the pain

How is Trigeminal Neuralgia Diagnosed?

Your medical history and symptoms are usually enough for your doctor to diagnose trigeminal neuralgia. Other diagnostic testing that your doctor may recommend include:

  • Neurological exam: Series of tests that measures eye movement, blink reflex, and other neurological functions to rule out other conditions
  • MRI scan: Imaging test that takes pictures of your brain tissue to find anything pressing on the trigeminal nerve or damage to its myelin sheath

Treatments for Trigeminal Neuralgia

At St. Joseph’s Hospital, we customize our treatments for trigeminal neuralgia to address your specific condition and needs. We begin with medications to reduce the symptoms. Other treatment options include:

  • Medications: Drug therapy to manage pain and control seizure, to reduce the facial pain attacks
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery: Radiation therapy that precisely targets the part of the trigeminal nerve root that is causing the pain
  • Microvascular decompression: Procedure that gently moves the blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve using special, tiny instruments and a microscope

Read more about stereotactic radiosurgery and microvascular decompression.

Contact Us

For more information or for a physician referral, please call (813) 644-4322.