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If you are experiencing facial pain or abnormal sensation in your eye, face or jaw line, you may be suffering from trigeminal neuralgia. This condition may be debilitating, as the pain is typically so severe that it makes concentrating on your normal work and recreational activities difficult or impossible.

If you have facial pain and suspect you have trigeminal neuralgia, visit your doctor right away to get an accurate diagnosis. Your doctor can recommend treatment options for you to help manage your condition.

If you have trigeminal neuralgia, you likely have many questions about the condition. One question that is often asked is, “What are the causes of trigeminal neuralgia?” Learning about your condition and the causes of trigeminal neuralgia is an important step in understanding the many treatments available to help manage your facial pain and symptoms.

A Closer Look at Trigeminal Neuralgia

The trigeminal nerve is the 5th cranial nerve. Cranial nerves are nerves that are in your skull and innervate structures around the head and face. There are three distinct divisions of the trigeminal nerve. One innervates your face near your eye, one near your cheek and one division innervates your jaw.

Trigeminal neuralgia is a painful condition caused by any dysfunction or disruption of your trigeminal nerve. Symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia include:

  • Sharp shooting pain on one side of your face near your eye, cheek or jaw
  • Abnormal sensation, such as numbness or tingling, in your face
  • Episodes of sharp pains in your face or jaw
  • Periods of mild pain or ache in the face or jaw
  • Muscular spasm in the jaw, eye and face

There is a trigeminal nerve on either side of your face, and symptoms most often occur on one side of the face or jaw. There are reported cases of bilateral trigeminal neuralgia, although this is rare.

One of the most frustrating factors for patients who are dealing with trigeminal neuralgia is that the sharp pain seems to come on for no apparent reason with no precipitating event. This can make managing the condition difficult, and working closely with your doctor to understand the underlying causes of trigeminal neuralgia is an important part of your care for the condition.

Trigeminal Neuralgia Causes

Research suggests that most cases of trigeminal neuralgia are caused by pressure on the trigeminal nerve by adjacent vascular structures. It is often unclear as to why an artery near the trigeminal nerve would suddenly compress against it and cause pain. It is also unclear why some people can have a compressed trigeminal nerve and experience little or no pain.

Many people with trigeminal neuralgia experience periods of intense shooting pain coupled with long periods of little or no pain at all. This symptom presentation can also cause confusion and anxiety about trigeminal neuralgia; if an artery is compressing your trigeminal nerve, shouldn’t it always hurt?

While compression on the trigeminal nerve by the artery can be the cause of facial pain, there are also different activities that may trigger an attack of trigeminal neuralgia. These triggers often include:

  • Lightly touching or brushing your face
  • Having water forcefully hit your face or jaw in the shower
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Chewing hard foods
  • Shaving
  • Talking

Of course, these triggers are different for everybody, and sometimes no specific activity can be found that causes an episode of trigeminal neuralgia.

Sometimes, underlying lesions may be causing irritation of your trigeminal nerve. These underlying causes of trigeminal neuralgia may include:

  • Tumor
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Nerve cysts
  • Stroke
  • Arteriovenous malformation (AVM), an abnormal tangle of blood vessels

Since there are many different causes of trigeminal neuralgia and triggers for facial pain, it is important to visit your doctor if you suspect you may be suffering from it. Your doctor can help you get an accurate diagnosis and start you on the correct treatment for your condition.

Who Develops Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Anyone can develop the painful symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia, but research shows that certain people are more likely to suffer from it. Typically people over the age of 50 get trigeminal neuralgia. The condition affects more women than men, although anyone, from infancy through adulthood, can get trigeminal neuralgia.

People with certain underlying conditions may also be at a greater risk for trigeminal neuralgia. If you have had a stroke that affected the area of your brainstem where your trigeminal nerve resides, you may suffer from trigeminal neuralgia. The likelihood of trigeminal neuralgia being caused by multiple sclerosis increases if it occurs during young adulthood.

Even if you are not likely to get trigeminal neuralgia, you should consult your doctor right away if you have facial pain, numbness or spasm. These symptoms can be a sign of a serious condition.

Trigeminal neuralgia is a painful and debilitating condition that can make enjoying your normal everyday lifestyle difficult or impossible. Learning about the causes of your condition can make understanding and successfully treating your trigeminal neuralgia a reality.
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