Understanding Trigeminal Neuralgia
Trigeminal neuralgia is a neuropathic pain disorder which affects specific nerves of your face. People suffering from this condition describe the pain like an electric shock, getting intense with pain-free intervals.
Certain parts of a person’s face act very sensitive to touch. The disease is chronic, and intensity of pain increases with time if proper treatment is not sought out.
Mapping the Nerves in Your Face
To know about trigeminal neuralgia, it is good to know about the layout of the affected nerves. 12 pairs of cranial nerves exist in your head. These are trigeminal nerves and are responsible for sensations in the face. One nerve covers each side of the face.
Each nerve divides into three branches, based on the feeling for various parts of the face. They are:
- The ophthalmic branch. Controlling eye, upper eyelid, and forehead region.
- The maxillary branch. Controlling lower eyelid, cheek, nostrils, and upper gum.
- The mandibular branch. Controlling jaw, lower lip, and certain muscles used while chewing.
You may feel pain, depending on which nerve is damaged. Generally, only one side feels pain.
You may have these symptoms:
- Brief periods of jabbing and sharp pain triggered by trivial things like brushing teeth, washing face, shaving or even a light air current against affected face triggers pain. It may last from a few seconds to some minutes.
- It might occur several times a day or continue to for weeks with periods of remission in between. The pain progresses in intensity and frequency with time. The upper area i.e. forehead and eyes are the least affected parts.
- Sudden and potent flashes of pain are signs of “classic” trigeminal neuralgia. If the pain is less vigorous but constant, like a flaming aching, then “atypical” trigeminal neuralgia is present.
Many options, including medication and surgery, are available.
There are prescribed medicines that keep the nerves from firing. These are called anticonvulsants.
Muscle relaxants can also be used, alone or in combination with anticonvulsants. Typical pain killers do not work, and hence a tricyclic antidepressant is recommended.
If medication is not helping much, surgery is the next cure. Several surgical options are available due to advancements.
Some even do not require you to be admitted to the hospital. General anesthesia is involved in some treatments, meaning you will be sleeping through the whole procedure.
Which surgery is right for you is decided by the doctor and is based on your overall health, alignment of nerves involved and patient’s preference.
- Microvascular decompression, for taking out blood vessels affecting the nerve.
- Gamma knife radiosurgery, which utilizes radiation for destroying the tangle.
- Rhizotomy for destroying the nerves.