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Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition that causes severe episodes of intense facial pain or abnormal sensation. The condition seems to come on for no apparent reason, and the intensity of the pain can make simple tasks like concentrating on work almost impossible.

Symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia may range from mild to severe, and your pain may come and go in episodes that last from a few seconds to minutes. Between episodes, you may have no pain, or you may experience a dull ache or numbness in your face near your eye, cheek or jaw.

Certain triggers may make your symptoms come on. Shaving, brushing lightly against your face or talking and chewing food may cause you to have an episode. By learning what activities increase your symptoms, you can learn to modify them to prevent severe episodes of pain.

Many different treatments are available for trigeminal neuralgia, ranging from medication to surgery. The most important thing you can do is to learn about the condition and its symptoms and investigate the different treatment options available to you.

How is Trigeminal Neuralgia Treated?

When you are first diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, your doctor may prescribe medication to help decrease your pain. If medical treatments fail to give you adequate relief or cause significant side effects, you may need to consult with a neurosurgeon to learn about definitive surgical options for your facial pain.

Four common surgical procedures performed to treat patients with trigeminal neuralgia include Gamma Knife Radiosurgery, microvascular decompression, percutaneous rhizotomy and stimulator placement.

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is a procedure that actually does not use a knife at all. Rather, a focused beam of radiation is carefully aimed at your trigeminal nerve. The radiation damages the nerve and reduces or eliminates the painful signals that are traveling through the nerve to your brain. Because the beam of radiation is so focused, very little or no radiation affects neighboring tissues of your brain or brain stem.

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery can be very effective at treating trigeminal neuralgia. A rare side effect of the procedure is facial numbness. The benefit for Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is that no actual incision is made, so there is no risk of blood loss or infection. Also, there is no hospital stay and the treatment is performed in a single day.

Microvascular Decompression

Microvascular decompression is a type of brain surgery. Your neurosurgeon will make an incision behind your ear, and a small portion of your skull will be removed. Your surgeon will then locate your trigeminal nerve, and a small Teflon pad will be placed between the nerve and a nearby artery, thus decompressing the nerve.

Once the pad is placed, your incision will be closed and you can start your recovery. Trigeminal neuralgia symptoms are typically rapidly abated after microvascular decompression surgery.

The surgery is considered the definitive treatment for the condition, with most patients enjoying a positive outcome. Risks of the procedure include blood loss, infection or failure to relieve symptoms. Since microvascular decompression is brain surgery, you will be required to spend a few days in the hospital after your procedure.

Stimulator Placement

Stimulator placement involves your neurosurgeon threading a small lead wire into your spinal cord where your trigeminal nerve resides. The wire is connected to a tiny power source that is implanted in your body.

The simulator uses small electrical signals to block the pain transmission from your trigeminal nerve to your brain. You can control the amount of stimulation with a wireless control pad, much like a physical therapy TENS unit.

A benefit of stimulator placement is that it can provide non-medication pain relief for trigeminal neuralgia. Some risk is involved using stimulator placement, as a surgical implantation of the device and lead wire is necessary.

Each of these surgical procedures carries different benefits and risks, so learning all you can about them is a great way to get started. That way, you can discuss each surgical approach with your doctor and be sure to choose the best treatment for you.

Preparing for Treatment

When considering treatment for trigeminal neuralgia, many NJ patients have a difficult time locating the right neurosurgeon. It is a rare condition, and locating the best NJ neurosurgeon to treat your condition may seem like a difficult task.

A few good ideas to locate a top rated neurosurgeon for your treatment include:

  • Ask your family physician, neurologist or facial pain specialist for a referral
  • Ask family members and friends about their experiences
  • Search the internet for positive (or negative) reviews of various NJ neurosurgeons who treat facial pain

Once you have located a neurosurgeon to treat your trigeminal neuralgia, be sure to meet with him or her to discuss your condition and the treatment options available to you.

Ask your doctor any questions about your procedure, and inquire about alternative treatment options for you. Your doctor should take the time to listen to your questions and concerns about your treatment and answer your questions.

Find the Right Neurosurgeon for You

Several NJ neurosurgeons treat trigeminal neuralgia, but only a few are top rated doctors who lead their profession. Finding those doctors should be a priority to you. Characteristics of a top neurosurgeon to treat your condition include:

  • Listens to your concerns about your surgery
  • Takes time to answer your questions thoroughly
  • Offers you alternative treatments
  • Have successful results of his/her own
  • Works with professional healthcare workers who treat you with courtesy and respect

After meeting with your doctor, you should come away from the appointment feeling confident in your doctor’s ability to properly treat your trigeminal neuralgia. You should feel like your doctor is working with you in a therapeutic alliance to manage your condition.

Trigeminal neuralgia can be a difficult condition to properly treat. With many different non-surgical and surgical options, it is important that you learn all you can about the condition. When considering surgery — like Gamma Knife Radiosurgery or microvascular decompression — finding the right doctor to perform your procedure can make your outcome from trigeminal neuralgia surgery a positive experience.
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