If you suffer from trigeminal neuralgia, you are familiar with the excruciating pain that comes on suddenly, envelops your face, and disrupts your life. And, of course, it doesn’t help that flare-ups are often caused by the simplest of things, such as touching your face, brushing your hair, or kissing a loved one.
Trigeminal neuralgia isn’t considered to be life-threatening per se. But, given the number of patients attempting to take their life to put a stop to the pain, it isn’t surprising that this condition is also known as “suicide disease”.
Fortunately, relying on often ineffective pain medications or undergoing invasive surgical procedures are no longer the only options to manage your pain. Thanks to Neuragenex’s whole-person approach, you can address the triggers of flare-ups, ease painful sensations, and gain your life back – without drugs or surgery. Let’s see how below.
Also known as tic douloureux (painful tic), Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a chronic, lifelong condition that causes agonizing pain. The painful episodes usually focalize on one side of the face, develop in a matter of seconds, and can disrupt your daily life.
The pain stems from a problem with the trigeminal nerve, which is a set of cranial nerves starting from the top of the ear and splitting off across the side of the face. Although you have two trigeminal nerves – one for each side of the face – TN usually affects only one of these nerves.
In people with TN, the dysfunction of the trigeminal nerve often occurs due to a blood vessel pressing on and damaging the nerve. However, this condition may also have other causes, such as tumors, surgical injuries, facial trauma, or multiple sclerosis.
The pain deriving from this disease is often described as an electric shock-like, stabbing sensation, so intense that it can prevent you from drinking, eating, smiling, or speaking.
Trigeminal neuralgia is considered to be a rare disorder, affecting around 5.5 people in a population of 100,000. Only around 15,000 new cases of TN are registered every year in the US, and women – especially those aged 50 and over – are twice as likely as men to suffer from it.
But while rare, this condition can be extremely severe. The painful episodes it causes are unpredictable and agonizing, which can lead to mental and physical distress. What’s more, currently, there is no definitive cure for TN. Surgical interventions may help suppress symptoms temporarily, while medications can help relieve pain.
Because of the lack of a cure and extremely painful sensations, trigeminal neuralgia may push people toward attempting suicide. In a 2018 study, TN accounted for 26% of all attempted suicides in people with chronic headache disorders.
Fortunately, for today’s patients, there is hope to find an efficient treatment option that does not involve medications or surgery.
As seen above, trigeminal neuralgia is a condition deriving from disruptions in the functioning of the trigeminal nerve. This can happen when a blood vessel gets into contact with – and presses on – the nerve, but other conditions can also cause damage to the trigeminal nerve.
To understand how TN relates to trigeminal nerve damage, let’s first look at the function and anatomy of this nerve.
The trigeminal nerve is one of the 12 pairs of nerves that stem from the brain and spread across the body. These nerves are responsible for transmitting signals to the brain related to sensations, pain, touch, vibration, muscle movements, and bodily functions such as heartbeat and digestion. These signals are then processed by the brain, a process that enables you to move your muscles and experience sensations in response to stimuli.
In particular, the trigeminal nerve branches out into the face and is responsible for transmitting pain, touch, and temperature sensations from your face to the brain.
There are two trigeminal nerves, one located on each side of the face. Each nerve starts on top of the ear and then splits off into three branches:
The trigeminal nerve carries sensations from the different parts of the face to the brain. This connection can be interrupted due to nerve damage, which may occur if the trigeminal nerve is compressed, irritated, or inflamed.
When this nerve is damaged, it can misfire, causing you to experience sudden electric shock-like sensations. The jolt of pain may also be triggered by stimuli that should be painless, such as brushing your hair, touching your face, or putting on makeup.
Although it may feel like the pain caused by TN envelops a whole side of your face, it tends to focalize around the area where one of the nerve branches is irritated or damaged. The intensity of the pain caused by trigeminal neuralgia is reported to be worse than experiencing a heart attack or giving birth.
Trigeminal neuralgia has one constant: causing excruciating pain. However, the intensity, pattern, frequency, and location of flare-ups may vary from one person to another.
In most cases, painful sensations occur in intermittent bouts and are characterized by stabbing sensations. However, some people experience constant aching or burning pain.
Depending on your symptoms, your condition may be classified as classic trigeminal neuralgia or atypical trigeminal neuralgia. Let’s look at these variations of TN below.
Also known as “classic”, Type 1 trigeminal neuralgia is the most common form of TN. If you have this condition, you’ll experience painful episodes characterized by sharp and burning sensations on one side of your face.
These episodes start with mild numbness and tingling and achieve full intensity in a matter of seconds. Each burst of pain can last between a few seconds and two minutes before easing off.
The bouts of pain usually occur very close together and are followed by brief pain-free periods. They can continue intermittently for up to two hours, but some people experience hundreds of attacks a day. After a flare-up, you may enjoy a period of remission, during which you don’t experience pain for months or years. The periods of remission tend to get shorter with time, and the pain always comes back.
A flare-up of trigeminal neuralgia can be triggered by contact with the cheek, vibration, or touch, which can occur when you are washing your face, eating, or drinking. The attacks rarely occur when you are sleeping.
Atypical – or Type 2 – trigeminal neuralgia is far less common than Classic TN. This form of trigeminal neuralgia causes painful sensations that may be less intense, but also more widespread and constant. People with atypical TN often describe their pain as stabbing, burning, aching, or dull, and they tend to have more difficulty managing their symptoms.
While the pain deriving from Type 2 TN isn’t as excruciating as the one resulting from Type 1 trigeminal neuralgia, it can be just as life-limiting, especially as attacks progress and worsen over time. Additionally, with time, the periods of remission tend to be fewer and shorter, and medications become less effective in controlling the pain.
To complicate the clinical picture of someone with Type 2 trigeminal neuralgia is the fact that the symptoms of this condition overlap with the ones of other diseases, such as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, craniocervical instability (CCI), and Transverse Cervical Nerve (TCN). This often leads to misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment.
Trigeminal neuralgia pain can vary from one person to another, but there are some similarities. Firstly, the pain caused by this condition is known to be one of the most excruciating sensations known to humanity, often described as being worse than giving birth or suffering a heart attack.
Additionally, the attacks tend to follow a similar pattern, which has the following characteristics:
Working with a specialist can help you better understand the patterns and characteristics of trigeminal neuralgia pain.
Although pain is certainly the most prominent symptom of trigeminal neuralgia, the painful sensations this condition causes can vary from one person to another. If you have TN, here are some of the most common symptoms you’ll experience:
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Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition caused by the abnormal functioning of the trigeminal nerve. This dysfunction can occur from nerve damage, irritation, or compression, but it can also be idiopathic (without a known cause) in some cases.
Below, we’ll look at what can trigger trigeminal neuralgia:
After the onset of symptoms, trigeminal neuralgia becomes a lifelong, chronic condition. Although you may experience pain-free periods of remission, a new attack can be caused by one of several triggers, including the following:
These triggers may change over time. However, understanding what triggered a previous attack may help you prolong a period of remission.
Although anyone can experience trigeminal neuralgia, some factors may increase your risk of suffering from it. These include:
Although there is no definitive diagnostic procedure for trigeminal neuralgia, a neurologist or healthcare specialist will be able to determine what is causing your facial pain. However, because of the overlapping of symptoms with other conditions, atypical TN is more difficult to identify and sometimes misdiagnosed.
Diagnosing trigeminal neuralgia involves the following steps:
As seen above, trigeminal neuralgia is a lifelong condition for which there is no definitive cure. However, healthcare professionals can prescribe several lines of treatment to ease the intensity of the pain, reduce the frequency of attacks, and prolong the periods of remission.
Commonly prescribed medications for TN include:
If medications have not offered the desired results, your doctor may suggest undergoing a surgical procedure called stereotactic radiosurgery. This type of surgery uses a tool known as Gamma Knife or CyberKnife to create a lesion at the root of the trigeminal nerve using a concentrated amount of focused radiation.
This severs the connection between the trigeminal nerve and the brain, thus stopping you from feeling pain. This surgical intervention can ease trigeminal neuralgia pain for as long as three years but can worsen the sensations of numbness and weakness in the face.
When choosing a pharmacological treatment, it is important to keep in mind that trigeminal neuralgia is a progressive and chronic condition. This means that you may be taking medications daily for years to come, and the efficacy of these medications may decrease with time. This can expose you to severe side effects, including addiction.
Percutaneous – or “through the skin” – surgical procedures are used to destroy some nerve fibers in the trigeminal nerve. This reduces pain for two years or longer, but it can also increase sensations of facial numbness.
These procedures are known as rhizotomy. There are several types of rhizotomy that can be used for trigeminal neuralgia, including:
Another surgical procedure used to treat trigeminal neuralgia is microvascular decompression. In this procedure, the blood vessels compressing the trigeminal nerve are removed or relocated. This is the most invasive surgical procedure for TN.
According to a 2021 study, alternative and complementary therapies – when coupled with other therapies – can be beneficial in relieving TN pain and easing the intensity of attacks. Some of these therapies include yoga, meditation, biofeedback, aromatherapy, acupuncture, low-impact exercise, and creative visualization. These approaches relieve stress and trigger the production of pain-relieving hormones, such as endorphins.
The fact that there is no cure for trigeminal neuralgia does not mean that you have to spend your life dealing with excruciating pain, enduring the side effects of medications, or living in fear of suffering another attack.
With Neurofunctional Pain Management – Neuragenex’s proprietary whole-person approach – you can address all aspects that may be contributing to your condition, ease pain, and return to enjoying your life. And, you can do all this without surgery, medication, or chiropractic care.
The key pillars of a tailored Neurofunctional Pain Management protocol include:
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If you are living with excruciating pain caused by trigeminal neuralgia, the chances are that you have a single, constant thought: finding an efficient treatment option that does not involve surgery or medications.
Neuragenex’s Neurofunctional Pain Management can help. Thanks to our innovative whole-person approach, you can ease the pain without drugs or invasive surgeries – and stop living in fear of suffering another agonizing attack.
We take great pride in the wealth of talent and expertise that our providers have as they improve the health outcomes of our patients, each and every day.
Dr. Victor Osisanya is Board Certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his medical degree from Chicago Medical School. Upon completion of...
Ashley Locus is a Board-Certified Nurse Practitioner who began her career in healthcare as a registered nurse in 2013, working in a diverse array of healthcare settings including the emergency department, critical care, case management,...
Dipa is a double board-certified Nurse Practitioner in Family as well as Adult-Gerontology Acute Care. She graduated with her Bachelor’s in Nursing from Mercer University in Macon, GA and her Master’s in Nursing from Columbia...
Emma Henigman is a Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Lakeview College of Nursing and then her Master of Science in Nursing at Olivet Nazarene University. Emma started...
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John Ham is a board certified physician assistant with extensive experience working in rehabilitation services, musculoskeletal medicine, and pain management since 2004. He received his PA degree with a masters in medical science from Midwestern...
Dr. Mikuzis is also a certified life care planner (CLCP, LCP-C). He has studied extensively and trained with physicians including programs sponsored by The American Association of Orthopedic Medicine, The American Academy of Osteopathic Medicine,...
Don't suffer in silence. Schedule a consultation today and take the first step towards managing your trigeminal neuralgia with Neuragenex.