Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic condition, caused by a misfiring of the trigeminal nerve. An attack causes brief episodes of extreme, shooting pain. The trigeminal nerve has three branches, which sense touch and control the chewing muscles. TN usually occurs when an artery or vein compresses the root of the trigeminal nerve, causing it to misfire. The nerve may also be compressed or irritated by a tumor or other disorder. Additionally, diseases that attack the myelin sheath, which protects the nerves, such as multiple sclerosis, are potential causes.
Symptoms of TN may last from a few seconds to a few minutes and include numbness, tingling, pain, toothaches, and increased sensitivity to touch. People compare the pain to a sudden burn or an electric shock, typically felt on only one side of the face. It’s an incredibly intense sensation that can be physically incapacitating. Flashes of pain are often triggered by some type of contact with the face. Brushing teeth, applying makeup, shaving, eating, talking, or being exposed to wind can all trigger an episode.
Diagnosis is done through neurological testing, physical examination, verbal reporting of type and location of pain, as well as through imaging tests, including MRI. Treatment options include medication, various types of surgical procedures, and a radiology procedure called stereotactic radiosurgery (or Gamma Knife).