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What is trigeminal neuralgia?


Trigeminal neuralgia is a relatively common condition affecting as many as 1 in 200 of the population at sometime in their life. It causes severe pain in one side of the face, usually in a specific area of the cheek or jaw. It may involve the forehead, eye and often the teeth. The pain tends suddenly to stab, like a bolt of lightening, frequently brought on by minor brushing of the face, eating or cold wind or water touching a ‘trigger point’ on the face. Pain is typically extremely severe and standard painkillers may have only minor benefit.

Happily in most situations trigeminal neuralgia can be successfully treated and a totally pain-free outcome is the aim. Correct diagnosis is crucial, involving specialist tests including an MRI scan of the brain. The condition is frequently associated with an abnormal course of a blood vessel close to the brain pressing on the trigeminal nerve which provides sensation for the face. Many are successfully treated with a drug to reduce the aberrant firing of the nerve. If that proves ineffective, or the side effects of the medication limit the use, then there are a number of surgical treatments with excellent results. Depending on the specific case and the sufferer’s preference this can involve targeted injection under anaesthetic up to brain surgery for the most severe cases. Focused radiation treatment using the CyberKnife® may allow successful ‘surgical’ treatment without the need for anaesthetic or penetrating the skin.