What is Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Also known as tic douloureux, Trigeminal Neuralgia causes an intense level of pain. It is a condition that affects the trigeminal nerve (the 5th cranial nerve), one of the largest nerves in the head. The trigeminal nerve is responsible for sending impulses to the brain from the face, jaw, gums, forehead and from around the eyes.

The main characteristics of Trigeminal Neuralgia are sudden, severe, electric shock-like or stabbing pains that are typically felt on one side of the face. It may be so intense that you wince involuntarily, hence the term tic (tic douloureux). These attacks, which generally last several seconds and may be repeated one after the other, can be triggered by any facial movement (touching the face, talking, brushing teeth, chewing food, etc.). The attacks may come and go throughout the day and last for days, weeks or months at a time, and then disappear for months or years.

What are the causes of Trigeminal Neuralgia?

The exact cause of Trigeminal Neuralgia is unknown. There are, however, certain key factors (such as stress or physical nerve damage) that can trigger the onset of these painful attacks. Nerve damage may occur as the nerve passes from the openings in the skull (foramen) on their route to the muscles and tissue of the face. Any damage to the nerve can cause the nerve cells shed the myelin sheath (a protective and insulating coating). Without the insulation and protection of the myelin, information from nerves is transmitted inefficiently, possibly resulting in weakness, sensory loss or other neurologic dysfunction. In nearly all cases, an excessive burst of nervous activity from the damaged trigeminal nerve causes these excruciating attacks.

Damage may be due to: –

  • Physical compression of the nerve.
  • A biochemical change in the nerve tissue.
  • An abnormal blood vessel compressing the nerve as it exits from the brain.

Psychological stress can be the cause as well as the outcome of Trigeminal Neuralgia. Patients have been known to report Trigeminal Neuralgia following episodes major stress (eg. divorce, bereavement, loss of employment, etc.).

Who Is Affected by Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Trigeminal Neuralgia is generally a disease of middle age or later life and women are affected more often than men. Sufferers of multiple sclerosis are affected much more frequently than the general population.

What Are the Symptoms of Trigeminal Neuralgia?

  • Sudden, severe, electric shock-like or stabbing pains that are typically felt on one side of the face.