If you are feeling sharp, stabbing sensations on one side of your face, you may have a condition called trigeminal neuralgia. The condition can affect anyone at any time, and the symptoms may prevent you from enjoying your normal day-to-day activities.
One of the most important things you can do if you have trigeminal neuralgia is to learn about the condition and the different treatment options that are available to help you control your facial pain and return to your normal lifestyle.
What is Trigeminal Neuralgia?
Trigeminal neuralgia is a specific type of facial pain most often caused by irritation of your 5th cranial nerve, called the trigeminal nerve. When this nerve becomes irritated, symptoms of facial pain can occur. Your trigeminal nerve may become irritated by the wearing away of its protective covering, such as what occurs with multiple sclerosis. Sometimes, a neighboring artery may rub against your nerve, irritating it and causing your pain.
Your pain may be present constantly, or it may come on suddenly as sharp jabs of pain. If you have any pain in your face, you should see your doctor right away to get an accurate diagnosis of your condition and to start on the best treatment for you.
Treatment for Trigeminal Neuralgia
Initial treatment for trigeminal neuralgia includes using different medications to help control your pain. Your doctor can prescribe the best medicine for your particular condition. If your pain is persistent, various surgical procedures are available that can successfully treat your facial pain. Finding the best NJ neurosurgeon who treats trigeminal neuralgia can help you have a positive outcome with your treatment.
Medication for Trigeminal Neuralgia
When you are first diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, your doctor may prescribe medication to help decrease your facial pain. Drugs for the condition typically include antispasmodic or anticonvulsant medications. These medicines help decrease the nerve transmissions being sent through your trigeminal nerve, thus decreasing your pain.
While medicine can be successful initially, your body may become accustomed to it, and larger doses may be necessary to achieve the same level of pain relief. When this occurs, your doctor may recommend you see a neurosurgeon who treats facial conditions to definitively treat your symptoms.
There are different types of surgical procedures used to treat pain from trigeminal nerve irritation, and your surgeon will choose the best one for your specific condition.
Microvascular Decompression Surgery
Microvascular decompression (MVD) is one of the most effective surgical procedures for trigeminal neuralgia. It is used to take pressure off your trigeminal nerve caused by compression of a neighboring artery. During the surgery, your neurosurgeon will make a tiny incision behind your ear, and a small portion of your skull will be excised to visualize your trigeminal nerve. Then, a small Teflon pad will be placed between your trigeminal nerve and the blood vessel that is compressing it. This relieves pressure off the nerve to help eliminate your pain.
Many patients experience lasting and rapid relief of their symptoms after MVD. Some patients continue with mild numbness or facial pain, but most enjoy a full recovery with no lasting effects after the surgery.
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery for Trigeminal Neuralgia
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery for trigeminal neuralgia is a procedure where multiple beams of radiation are focused on your trigeminal nerve. The radiation slightly damages your nerve, decreasing painful transmissions through it.
The main benefit of the Gamma Knife procedure is that it is considered brain surgery, but no actual incision is made. The focused beam of radiation is also very precise, minimizing the effects of radiation on tissues surrounding your trigeminal nerve.
Many patients enjoy lasting relief from Gamma Knife Radiosurgery for facial pain. Plus, if your symptoms return, the procedure can be repeated. The downside of Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is that symptoms typically are reduced slowly over a course of weeks after the procedure.
Some patients benefit from a surgical procedure called a percutaneous rhizotomy for trigeminal neuralgia. During the surgery, a special needle is threaded through your cheek into an area where your trigeminal nerve is. A special electrode is then used to cauterize the nerve, decreasing the painful transmissions through the nerve.
Percutaneous rhizotomy can be a very successful procedure, with up to 90 percent of patients achieving complete pain relief with one procedure. If needed, the procedure can be repeated multiple times.
Pain Stimulator Placement
Pain stimulator placement is a procedure where a small electrode is threaded to an area near your trigeminal nerve. The electrode is attached to a small battery beneath your skin, and a control unit can then be used to send electrical impulses through the electrode. These impulses help to block the painful transmissions through your trigeminal nerve to control your pain.
The procedure has been found to be effective in minimizing facial pain, with approximately 70 percent of patients achieving a minimum of 50 percent pain reduction. One downside of the procedure is that the control unit may require maintenance and the percutaneous battery may need to be replaced from time to time, requiring a minor surgical procedure.
Not every treatment or surgical procedure is for everyone, so it is important to work closely with a trusted neurosurgeon who specializes in facial disorders to get the best treatment for you.
Dealing with trigeminal neuralgia can be a difficult thing to do. Your facial pain can limit your ability to focus on work or to enjoy recreational activity. By understanding what is causing your pain and the different treatment options available for it, you can make an informed decision about the treatment that you choose to manage your pain.