Trigeminal Neuralgia, also called tic douloureux, is a disorder of the trigeminal nerves that carry sensation to the face. Patients afflicted with this disorder experience debilitating pain on one side of the face. This pain is often described as sudden, stabbing, electric shock-like pain in the forehead, nose, lips, and/or jaw. Because the second and third divisions of the trigeminal nerve are most commonly affected, the pain is usually felt in the lower half of the face, causing some people to first seek treatment from their dentist.
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A less common form of the disorder called “Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia” may cause less intense, constant, dull burning or aching pain, sometimes with occasional stabbing jolts. Both forms of the disorder usually affect one side of the face, but sometimes patients experience pain on both sides.
The onset of symptoms of Trigeminal Neuralgia usually occurs in mid to late life, but cases in children and even infants have been documented. Attacks of pain may be triggered by something as simple and routine as brushing the teeth, putting on makeup or even a slight breeze. The most subtle touch may trigger an agonizing attack for the individual.
Trigeminal neuralgia can often be managed well with a variety of anti-seizure medications that help “stabilize” the nerve by reducing the irritation to the nerve that stimulates pain. The physicians at the ONS Trigeminal Neuralgia Center are experienced in prescribing, monitoring, and adjusting these medications. In addition, alternative therapies, such as acupuncture can be important adjuncts to medication.
If medication fails, surgery may be an option to reduce the intensity and frequency of the painful shocks, and sometimes, completely cure trigeminal neuralgia. The physicians at the ONS Trigeminal Neuralgia Center are expert in a wide variety of Trigeminal Neuralgia treatment options including:
The surgeon inserts a needle through the cheek into the cavity where the trigeminal nerve sits, and damages the pain fibers of the nerve by chemical, mechanical, or electrical means. This may be performed as an outpatient procedure, under local anesthesia with light sedation.
The surgeon examines the trigeminal nerve with a microscope, then moves the compressed blood vessels away from the nerve. A padded material (typically made of Teflon) is placed between the nerve and the blood vessel to prevent the vessel from coming in contact with the nerve again. The operation is performed under general anesthesia through a small opening in the back of the skull.
The Cyberknife® Robotic Radiosurgery System at Stamford Hosptal is used to precisely focus beams of radiation onto the trigeminal nerve. The procedure is non-invasive, painless and requires no incision. The patient goes home the same day after treatment.