If you have ever experienced nerve pain, you know how debilitating it can be. Trigeminal neuralgia is a type of nerve pain that affects your face, typically in your jaw or cheek. The pain can be sharp or feel like a burning sensation. It can be so severe that you have difficulty eating or drinking.

Most flare-ups begin with tingling or numbness in your face, and the pain can come and go. During a flare-up, the bursts of pain are more frequent and almost never stop. The intensity of the pain can make your day-to-day activities unbearable, but the condition itself is not life-threatening.

What Causes Trigeminal Neuralgia?

The most common cause of trigeminal neuralgia is a blood vessel pressing against your trigeminal nerve, which is a cranial nerve responsible for bringing sensations like touch, heat, and pain to your face.

Rare causes of trigeminal neuralgia include multiple sclerosis or tumors. This nerve condition is most common in people above 50 years old and is more common in women than men.

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What Are the Symptoms of Trigeminal Neuralgia?

There are multiple symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia. These symptoms include:

  • Pain in the cheek or jaw. It typically comes and goes and is mostly on one side.
  • Absence of pain between flare-ups.
  • Pain that feels like electric shocks or stabbing.
  • Pain that is triggered by touching, eating, brushing your teeth, or other factors like wind.
  • Anxiety from the thought of the pain returning.

How Is Trigeminal Neuralgia Diagnosed?

Your primary care provider can diagnose trigeminal neuralgia. Your provider will diagnose you based on your description of your pain. This diagnosis is based on three different factors:

  • Type of pain: Pain related to trigeminal neuralgia is sudden, shock-like, and brief.
  • Location of pain: The pain is mostly in your jaw or cheek.
  • Triggers of pain: Trigeminal neuralgia usually occurs after stimulation of your cheeks from things like eating, talking, or brushing your teeth.

If necessary, your provider can order additional tests to help diagnose your pain. These include a neurological exam or an MRI.

Many different conditions can cause facial pain, so an accurate diagnosis is important.

How Is Trigeminal Neuralgia Treated?

Trigeminal neuralgia is treated differently on a case-by-case basis. Treatment typically starts with medications that can help treat your nerve pain.

If medications do not work and your pain persists, surgery may be an option. Surgical options for trigeminal neuralgia include procedures that:

  • Relocate or remove blood vessels that are in contact with the trigeminal nerve root to stop the nerve from malfunctioning.
  • Use radiation to damage the trigeminal nerve and reduce or eliminate pain.
  • Use minimally invasive injections to damage the trigeminal nerve and block pain signals.
  • Selectively destroy nerve fibers associated with pain.

Can Trigeminal Neuralgia Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent trigeminal neuralgia. If there are certain activities that trigger your pain more than others, they should be avoided when possible.

Although this condition is not fatal, it can disrupt your life. Talk to your primary care provider about your trigeminal neuralgia pain. Your provider can determine the best pain management method for you.

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