Symptoms and Signs of Trigeminal Neuralgia (Facial Nerve Pain)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 1/18/2022

Doctor's Notes on Trigeminal Neuralgia (Facial Nerve Pain)

Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition that causes facial pain. The symptoms and signs of trigeminal neuralgia are intermittent pain that, when present, is described as bursts of sharp, stabbing electric-shock like pain, usually on one side of the face; facial muscle spasms (termed tic douloureux) can accompany the pain. Pain can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Many patients feel symptoms of irritability, anxiety, and depression -- some even become suicidal because they live in fear of unpredictable bursts of facial pain. Few people, however, experience a dull ache between attacks.

The syndrome of trigeminal neuralgia has no clear-cut cause. Some experts argue that it is caused by traumatic damage (compression) to the trigeminal nerve as it passes through openings in the skull to reach the muscles and tissues of the face. Others believe the cause stems from a biochemical change in the nerve. Many common activities can trigger a trigeminal neuralgia attack (for example, a light touch or vibration on the face, washing your face, or even having the wind blow against the face). Eating and chewing can also trigger an attack. Many people with the disease experience weight loss, dehydration, and/or malnutrition because they fear triggering an attack.

What Is the Treatment for Trigeminal Neuralgia?

There are a wide range of medical and surgical treatments, mainly to reduce or stop pain, for this disease:

  • Medical
  • Surgical
    • Neurectomy: trigeminal nerve partially cut to stop pain
    • Gamma knife radiosurgery/radiofrequency: modifies nerve pain function
    • Glycerol shot into spinal fluid: damages nerve pain impulses from the nerve
    • Balloon compression: deflated balloon inserted, compresses nerve against skull to slow/stop pain impulses
    • Microvascular decompression: removes blood vessels that supply the nerve

There are a few natural treatments that may be helpful:

Many doctors may use combinations of medical and/or other procedures to treat this problem. Discuss natural treatments with your doctors before using them.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.