What Is Trigeminal Neuralgia? Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

So what is trigeminal neuralgia? Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition that’s caused by the trigeminal nerve in your face. The nerve is responsible for sensation in your face and sends signals between the brain and face. While this condition involves facial pain, it’s rare, with less than 200,000 people in the United States being diagnosed with the condition annually. Typically, people over 50 experience this condition, although it’s possible that it can occur at any time and at any age. Multiple sclerosis can cause the condition in young adults, and there is an average of 12 cases per 100,000 people annually. Women are more likely to experience this condition than men. In this blog, we will go over trigeminal neuralgia causes, trigeminal neuralgia symptoms, and natural treatment options that may help. 

What is Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Sufferers of this condition may suffer from excruciating pain in their faces. Simple tasks, such as putting makeup on or brushing your teeth, can experience significant pain. The trigeminal nerve is the fifth cranial nerve and is the cause of neuropathic pain in the face.

Pain can last for as short as a few seconds or up to a few minutes.

Sometimes, the pain will come in short bursts that last for up to two hours. Multiple forms of pain may be experienced, including type 2, or atypical forms, which have a low-intensity pain that includes:

  • Aches
  • Burning sensations
  • Stabbing pain

Your trigeminal nerve is one of twelve that attaches directly to the brain. Each side of the face has one of these nerve pairings, but it’s rare that pain is felt on both sides of the face. The nerve has three main branches that are responsible for sensation in the:

  • Upper face
  • Middle face
  • Lower face

While one nerve branch may be impacted, multiple can be impacted at the same time.

what is trigeminal neuralgia causes symptoms treatment man holding his face because of nerve pain sitting at a desk wearing blue collared shirt

Trigeminal Neuralgia Causes

What causes trigeminal neuralgia? There are a few main things that contribute to trigeminal neuralgia causes, which include the nerve being pressed against by a blood vessel where it exits the stem of the brain. Compression of the nerve causes the coating around the nerve to wear away or become damaged.

The myelin sheath, which protects the nerve, is what deteriorates and causes increasing pain as the condition is allowed to persist.

There are also times, albeit being rare, where the condition is caused by a tumor compressing the nerve and not a blood vessel. A tangle of the arteries or a malformation of the veins can also cause the condition.

Finally, the nerve can also become injured and produce neuropathic facial pain. 

Sufferers of this condition may experience symptoms when they:

  • Brush their teeth
  • Shave 
  • Eat
  • Drink
  • Talk
  • Touch their faces

Even wind blowing against a person’s face can trigger pain.

A doctor will be able to assess the cause of the pain and offer guidance on the best course of action. It's important to know the symptoms associated with trigeminal neuralgia so that you can determine if your pain is associated with the nerve or another potential issue.

Trigeminal Neuralgia Symptoms

If you believe that you have this condition, you may experience the following trigeminal neuralgia symptoms:

  • Stabbing pain in the face
  • Burning sensation
  • Severe facial aches and pains

A small area of the face may be impacted, or the pain may spread to other areas of the face. Attacks will worsen, getting progressively worse over time, and there will be shorter periods of relief before episodes return.

Medication may be required to keep the condition under control when in the more severe stages. As the protective sheath around the nerve deteriorates, the pain will worsen and even medication will not be able to keep the pain under control.

While the pain is debilitating and can have a great impact on a person’s quality of life, it is not life-threatening.

Treating Trigeminal Neuralgia

Treating the condition depends on the person and the extent of the symptoms that they’re experiencing. Traditional and non-traditional avenues exist, with non-traditional preferred when pain is mild.

Traditional Treatment

Medication is the first course of treatment, with the goal of getting the pain under control and reducing the frequency of attacks. Anti-seizure medications are often prescribed to help with the pain.

The medications that are most beneficial block nerves from firing so that they can’t send pain signals to the brain. Muscle relaxants can also help.

Surgery is the next option and is recommended in the most serious cases. When pain is consistent, the following surgical procedures may be recommended:

  • Glycerol injections. A surgical treatment where the needle is inserted into the brain and injections are given. The glycerol injections will block the signals that relay the pain to the brain. The nerve is not damaged, and you can go home the same day.
  • Radiofrequency thermal lesioning. A permanent solution where the patient is awake and given an anesthetic. Electrical currents are used to identify the source of the pain and then destroy the nerve causing the pain.
  • Microvascular decompression. One of the last resort procedures available includes brain surgery where the pressure is relieved from the impacted nerves. Over 90% of patients experience pain relief, but this is major surgery and often only recommended when other treatment options have been exhausted.

A medical professional will work with you to find the best course of treatment for your pain.

Non-Traditional Treatment

There’s a lack of studies done on many non-traditional treatments, although the studies that do exist show a lot of promise. One review of 14 studies indicates that the following natural treatment options are worth exploring either on their own or in conjunction with medicinal treatments:

Acupuncture

The most promising alternative treatment that has ample evidence is acupuncture. One study used electric stimulation acupuncture to help combat neuropathic pain syndromes. The study included 17 patients that had treatment twice per week over a period of four weeks.

At the two-week mark, a pain reduction of 32.9% on average was experienced.

Three months after the treatment, the frequency of pain attacks was reduced by 44%, with pain remaining 15.9% lower than the baseline. Researchers that conducted the study suggested that acupuncture should be used when traditional treatments are unsuccessful.

what is trigeminal neuralgia causes symptoms treatment brunette woman looking in a mirror putting pain relieving topical cream on her face wearing a blue shirt

Herbal and Topical Treatments

Neuropathic pain was the focus of a 2019 study that looked at herbal medicine’s ability to ease neuropathy pain. The study looked at numerous studies offering a review of the most promising treatments available.

A total of 128 participants were included in the study, which was done on people with neuropathic pain – both diabetic and non-diabetic. Two main products were used in the studies:

  • Nutmeg spray containing nutmeg essential oil, menthol, coconut oil, alcohol, and methyl salicylate
  • St. Johns Worth, taken three times per day with 2,700 mg concentrations

Both studies lacked enough evidence to say, with a high level of certainty, that either of these solutions provided substantial pain relief. Pain relief was noted, but there were no cases of 50% pain relief or higher reported.

DMSO

DMSO is a chemical solvent that has risen in popularity in recent years. The medicinal uses of DMSO are wide-ranging, with some promises of alleviating pain associated with neuropathy pain, including trigeminal neuralgia.

One woman who has been suffering from facial pain applies DMSO at an 8% concentration to her face and reports that her pain symptoms subside within two hours.

Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition that will only worsen over time and lead to more frequent, intense bouts of pain. Seeking treatment is recommended, but natural remedies may also help alleviate pain.

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