If you have trigeminal neuralgia or know someone who has it, then you understand how the symptoms can interfere with all aspects of your day-to-day life. The pain can be so incredibly intense that it prevents you from concentrating on work or enjoying your normal recreational activities. Symptoms of facial pain or numbness, electrical shocks or tingling can be disruptive in nearly every aspect of your life.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be a difficult condition to diagnose and treat. The symptoms may come on for no apparent reason, and they may range from terribly severe to mild. These symptoms may disappear altogether for a short time, only to reappear as an intense shooting pain coming from your ear, jaw or eye.
If you are experiencing facial pain and suspect you have trigeminal neuralgia, check in with your doctor, and then learn as much as possible about the cause, symptoms and treatments of the condition.
Understanding the symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia can be a difficult thing to do as each person experiences the condition differently. Learning about the symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia is the first step to take to tackle this debilitating problem and return to your normal lifestyle.
What is Trigeminal Neuralgia?
Trigeminal neuralgia is facial pain that is caused by irritation of the 5th cranial nerve, called the trigeminal nerve. There are three branches of the trigeminal nerve; one branch innervates an area of your face near your eye, one near your cheek and one innervates your jaw.
The nerve communicates signals directly to your brain about different sensations on your face. You have two trigeminal nerves; one on either side of your face. Trigeminal neuralgia can occur if your trigeminal nerve becomes irritated. Most often, irritation of the nerve is caused by compression from a neighboring artery.
When this artery compresses the nerve, the myelin covering that insulates the nerve can wear away and shock-like pain signals may be sent from your face to your brain. Sometimes other problems, like multiple sclerosis (MS), a cyst or a stroke may be responsible for your facial pain.
Certain activities may trigger an attack of trigeminal neuralgia, or your symptoms may come on randomly for no apparent reason. Triggers commonly associated with trigeminal neuralgia may include:
- Brushing your teeth
- Lightly brushing against your face
- Water hitting your face in the shower
- Light breezes brushing against your face
- Eating, chewing or talking
If any of these activities cause a sharp, shooting or electricity-like pain in your face, visit your doctor right away to learn about all of the symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia and to get started on treatment right away.
Trigeminal Neuralgia Symptoms
Understanding the symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia is an important part of the diagnosis process of the condition. Remember, everyone experiences trigeminal neuralgia differently. Your symptoms may be different than those of someone else.
Common symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia may include:
- Sharp, shooting pain on one side of your face, jaw or eye
- Abnormal sensation, like numbness or tingling, in your face, jaw or eye
- Pain in your back teeth on one side of your jaw
- Pain in your jaw near your ear
- Aching in your jaw, face or ear
- Episodes of sharp pain lasting for a few seconds to several minutes
- Electric shock-like sensations on one side of your face
Symptoms are usually felt only on one side of the face, but in rare occasions appear bilaterally. Typically, women over the age of 50 experience trigeminal neuralgia, and right sided symptoms are reported more often than left sided symptoms.
No genetic or familial link exists for trigeminal neuralgia. Occasionally, patients who have multiple sclerosis feel symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia. If you are feeling any of these symptoms, you must see your doctor right away to get an accurate diagnosis of your condition and to start on the right treatment program for you.
Trigeminal Neuralgia Diagnosis
If your doctor suspects you have trigeminal neuralgia, he or she may refer you to a neurologist or facial pain specialist for an accurate diagnosis. These doctors are trained to diagnose trigeminal neuralgia or other types of facial pain. If your doctor feels that surgery is necessary to treat your trigeminal neuralgia, you may be referred to a neurosurgeon.
No single diagnostic tool is used to diagnose trigeminal neuralgia. Occasionally, an MRI or CT scan may be ordered to rule out other etiologies, like a tumor, MS or a stroke, when searching for a cause of your facial pain.
The diagnosis of the condition is made by your doctor and is done by taking an accurate history of your symptoms and symptom behavior. Although other tests may be ordered, these are done to rule out other causes of facial pain and not to diagnose trigeminal neuralgia.
Diagnosing trigeminal neuralgia can be difficult, but by working closely with your doctor or facial pain specialist, you can reach an accurate diagnosis and find the best treatment for your condition.
The symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia can be a frustrating and confusing thing to understand, but learning about your symptoms and how they behave is an important step in finding the correct treatment for your condition.