As the name implies, trigeminal neuralgia is a nerve disorder. It is a condition of the trigeminal nerve is the nerve that goes from your face, including your upper and lower jaw, nose, lips, cheeks and around the eyes. It runs up your temple to your brain. Neuralgia refers to a nerve that is sending sharp, painful sensations to your brain. Indeed, trigeminal neuralgia is known to be one of the most painful conditions humans ever have to endure. The pain of trigeminal neuralgia can come in short, quick stabbing jolts that last for a few minutes or it can settle in and be painful for an hour or two at a time.
What Causes Trigeminal Neuralgia?
The cause behind all this pain is a blood vessel putting pressure on a nerve near your brain stem. Over time, the myelin sheath – a protein and fatty material that insulates some nerves – becomes compromised. Like a wire short-circuiting due to worn out insulation, trigeminal neuralgia can present itself erratically.
While the pain acts differently, generally increasing over time, trigeminal neuralgia is a very narrowly focused condition. The Mayo Clinic, for example, lists nine symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia. However, the list is really a repeat of the same symptom nine times, as each one of those nine short symptoms includes the word “pain.”
Pain Management And Treatment
- Pain medication is often used to treat trigeminal neuralgia
- Anti-convulsant medications are used
Neuromodulation is a technique that involves implanting microelectrodes near nerve endings. A pulse generator then causes the electrodes to send 10 kHz pulses to the nerve endings. This disrupts the pain signals going to your brain, making this a partial pain blocking technique.
Microvascular Decompression Surgery
Surgery can be recommended. The most common surgery used to treat trigeminal neuralgia is called microvascular decompression surgery. The name of the surgery tells you what the procedure is about: Taking pressure off the afflicted nerve. With microvascular decompression surgery, the surgeon separates the blood vessel and the afflicted nerve and places a nonstick spacer between two, to prevent further interaction between them. The spacer is called a “pillow.”
Chance of Success
Doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have performed this surgery thousands of times. Immediate relieve is obtained for 82 percent of the patients who undergo the procedure, while 16 percent experience partial relief.