Trigeminal neuralgia is a type of neuralgia (”neuralgia” means ”pain that occurs because of the damaged nerve”) that almost never affects people under the age of 50, and is most common among people who are older than 70. Trigeminal nerve is one of the most important nerves on the face. Extremely severe pain will occur if it is damaged, usually only on one side of the face. It is not known what causes nerve damage or why is this disorder more common in elderly people. Though it does not endanger life, trigeminal neuralgia can be very unpleasant.
The patient feels piercing pain on the affected side of the face along the nerve pathway. This strong pain can lasts for a few seconds and up to a minute, and can be caused by the ordinary touch of a sensitive place.
Sometimes, for reasons unknown, pain can occur every few minutes during a next few days or weeks and then disappear. However, piercing pain usually reoccur at shorter intervals, and seizures may appear almost uninterrupted over time. In some cases, the pain is accompanied by muscle spasms that cause twitching on the face.
What to do?
If you think you have trigeminal neuralgia, contact a doctor who will probably look closely at your sinuses and ears, and may advise you to go to the dentist. Namely, infections of the sinuses, ears, or teeth can often cause pain that is mistakenly replaced with neuralgia. If you do have trigeminal neuralgia, your doctor will prescribe a medicine that will, in most cases, suppress the attack. You must take the medicine exactly as directed; your doctor will give you ever increasing doses until the pain disappears and then gradually lower your dose. If the medicine does not work in your case, your doctor may recommend surgery, i.e. the destruction of trigeminal nerve by cutting or injecting the alcohol around the nerve. An operation will be performed by neurosurgeon under the general anesthesia. Until recently, a part of the face would stay permanently numb after the operation, but the latest methods have achieved significantly better results and most patients can now expect a healing without unpleasant consequences.