This is one of the most painful conditions known to medicine. Even the slightest touch to the skin can cause excruciating pain. This chronic pain condition affects the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensations between your face and your brain. A slight touch to the face can trigger the pain. Washing your face, shaving, applying makeup, chewing, eating, talking, smiling, a light breeze or brushing your teeth can cause extreme pain. The condition can be progressive, meaning it can intensify and worsen over time. It may start out mild and occasional but develop into more frequent bouts of worsening pain. More women than men are affected by trigeminal neuralgia and the most common age of onset is 50 and older.
With trigeminal neuralgia, there is thought to be contact between the trigeminal nerve at the base of the brain and an artery or vein. This can put pressure on the nerve and cause it to malfunction. The aging process can encourage the development of this condition, and it has also been tied to disorders including Multiple Sclerosis. Some people have no clear trigger and in rare cases, a tumor can compress the trigeminal nerve.
There are many symptoms a person can experience with trigeminal neuralgia. These include:
- Severe pain that is episodic
- Occasional painful twinges
- Shooting or jabbing pain that feels like an electric shock
- Spontaneous attacks brought on by even the slightest stimulation
- Pain in areas including the face, cheeks, chin, jaw, teeth, eyes, lips and forehead.
Attacks of pain can last mere seconds. Others may suffer for days, weeks, months or longer. Some people may go extended periods without pain. One side of the face can be affected or pain can occur in both sides. It can occur in one small area or have a more widespread impact.
This condition can be frightening and many people fear a life of suffering and pain. The truth is, it can be controlled effectively through medications, injections and possibly surgery. A neurological exam or MRI may be necessary in order to diagnose the condition. Medication such as muscle relaxers or anticonvulsants may work at first but can lose their effectiveness over time or produce unpleasant side effects. Sometimes, alcohol is injected into the face to numb the area and provide temporary pain relief. Repeated injections may be necessary because this approach doesn’t offer long-term relief. Alternative therapies may also be effective including acupuncture, biofeedback, electric nerve stimulation and vitamin or nutrition therapy.