Trigeminal Neuralgia

What Is Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN), also called tic douloureux, is a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal or 5th cranial nerve, one of the most widely distributed nerves in the head. TN is a form of neuropathic pain (pain associated with nerve injury or nerve lesion.) The typical or “classic” form of the disorder (called “Type 1” or TN1) causes extreme, sporadic, sudden burning or shock­like facial pain that lasts anywhere from a few seconds to as long as two minutes per episode. These attacks can occur in quick succession, in volleys lasting as long as two hours. The “atypical” form of the disorder (called “Type 2” or TN2), is characterized by constant aching, burning, stabbing pain of somewhat lower intensity than Type 1. Both forms of pain may occur in the same person, sometimes at the same time. The intensity of pain can be physically and mentally incapacitating.

The trigeminal nerve is one of 12 pairs of nerves that are attached to the brain. The nerve has three branches that conduct sensations from the upper, middle, and lower portions of the face, as well as the oral cavity, to the brain. The ophthalmic, or upper, branch supplies sensation to most of the scalp, forehead, and front of the head. The maxillary, or middle, branch stimulates the cheek, upper jaw, top lip, teeth and gums, and to the side of the nose. The mandibular, or lower, branch supplies nerves to the lower jaw, teeth and gums, and bottom lip. More than one nerve branch can be affected by the disorder. Rarely, both sides of the face may be affected at different times in an individual, or even more rarely at the same time (called bilateral TN).

TN is associated with a variety of conditions. TN can be caused by a blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve as it exits the brain stem. This compression causes the wearing away or damage to the protective coating around the nerve (the myelin sheath). TN symptoms can also occur in people with multiple sclerosis, a disease that causes deterioration of the trigeminal nerve’s myelin sheath.Symptoms of TN may be caused by nerve compression from a tumor, or a tangle of arteries and veins called an arteriovenous malformation. Injury to the trigeminal nerve (perhaps the result of sinus surgery, oral surgery, stroke, or facial trauma) may also produce neuropathic facial pain.


Trigeminal Neuralgia Treatment Options

This severely painful nerve disorder can be treated by the specialists at Orange County CyberKnife and Radiation Oncology Center. Trigeminal Neuralgia (TM) involves a sudden, sharp, shooting pain in one side of the face. The Trigeminal nerve is located in the face and there are three divisions: one that goes through the eye and forehead; one that goes through the cheek; and one that goes through the jaw. TM usually happens in the cheek or jaw area. In some cases, people may think the pain is due to dental issues and so those must be ruled out through X-rays and a dental evaluation.

There are two distinct types of TM. The Classical or Typical type of TM involves sharp, debilitating episodes of pain that shoot through the face, with periods of no pain in between. This pain can be set off by touching the face, eating, swallowing or chewing. The second type is an Atypical TM that brings constant pain to the face PLUS the sharp, shooting pain. The pain grows stronger with time.

TN usually happens when a blood vessel compresses the trigeminal nerve. It can happen suddenly and last several years and even decades. The number of attacks can be seasonal and vary from several each day to a few each year.

Trigeminal Neuralgia Treatments Available In Southern California

Orange County CyberKnife houses the most advanced collection of radiation therapy treatments in Southern California and they are operated by highly trained and skilled radiation oncologists. TN is treated with medication, surgery or external radiation therapy, all of which offer varying degrees of success.


Medication is often the first line of treatment for TN patients. These may be effective for patients, sometimes for long periods of time. However, patients often have their pain return and/or experience fatigue or other significant side effects.


If medical treatments are not successful, patients often choose surgery, including a procedure known as microvascular decompression (MVD). Younger TN patients often prefer MVD because of its potential of a long-term cure without causing significant facial numbness. Open surgery also carries risks of infection, arterial or cranial-nerve injury or stroke. Certain patients may have medical conditions that prevent surgery, while others may object to surgery.

Other procedures.

Known as radiofrequency rhizotomy, glycerol rhizotomy or nerve balloon compression attempt to destroy trigeminal nerve fibers that cause pain. These operations have varying degrees of success, and pain relief often doesn’t last more than a few years. Therefore, the treatment typically must be repeated several times over a patient’s life.

CyberKnife Stereotactic Radiosurgery.

CyberKnife is a type of external radiation technology that focuses radiation beams directly to the nerve. The radiation experts at Orange County CyberKnife use the CyberKnife to treat TN without the need for cutting or surgery. The treatment involves focusing radiation on the trigeminal nerve. The radiation will cause injury to the nerve preventing it from transmitting the pain. It also stimulates a healing process that, over time can relieve pain. The success of this procedure is 90 percent to 95 percent with few side effects.

CyberKnife is unique in many ways, including:

  • Robotic arm is flexible to reach the exact end of the nerve from any angle.
  • High-tech imaging system tracks your slightest movement and adjust the radiation beams to stay focused on the nerve, avoiding adjacent healthy tissue.
  • Uses a comfortable, flexible mask to help keep head steady during treatment, while other systems, like Gamma Knife, require that your head be tied into a rigid metal frame bolted to a table.
  • High doses of beams are transmitted in one to five short sessions, one per day.

Find Out More. Call Today

Our radiation experts are here to help you understand every facet of your Trigeminal Neuralgia treatment in Southern California. Please contact us today at (714) 962-7100 to find out more about how CyberKnife can relieve your TN pain! Or, use our convenient online appointment form to make your first appointment. We are ready and waiting to answer all of your questions and show you how CyberKnife could be the best treatment for your Trigeminal Neuralgia.

Learn How CyberKnife Can Treat Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal Neuralgia: Types & Stages

Trigeminal neuralgia pain caused by a lesion, such as a tumor, is referred to as secondary trigeminal neuralgia. A tumor that severely compresses or distorts the trigeminal nerve may cause facial numbness, weakness of chewing muscles, and/or constant aching pain. Medications usually help control secondary TN pain when first tried, although often become. Surgically removing the tumor usually alleviates pain and trigeminal function may return. At the time of surgery, after the removal of the tumor, the trigeminal nerve may be found to also be compressed by an artery or vein that causes the typical features of TN. This vessel must then be moved away from the nerve by microvascular decompression techniques to cure TN.


Trigeminal Neuralgia: FAQs

Answer :

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a disorder of the 5th cranial nerve. TN causes sudden shock-like facial pains, typically near the nose, lips, eyes or ears. It is said to be the most excruciatingly painful human condition in the world. TNA’s origin is unknown, but it is often attributed to abnormal blood vessels that compress the nerve, multiple sclerosis, or tumors. The disorder is named for the three-part (trigeminal) nerve that supplies sensations to all parts of the face.

Answer :

TN is characterized by jolting, stabbing, or electrocution-type pains, neuropathic facial pain is better described as constant, dull, burning or boring pain with intermittent sharp stabbing pains. Numbness and tingling may also be present with neuropathic facial pain.

Answer :

TN was first described in medical literature as early as 1672. Some people know the disorder as Tic Douloureux. TN is often misdiagnosed as a toothache or TMJ. Many people go undiagnosed for years. Some people are misdiagnosed with TN although what they have is actually neuropathic facial pain.

Answer :

Sometimes injury to the end of the trigeminal nerve is caused by some type of trauma, such as a dental procedure or a blow to the face. Post herpetic neuralgia, better known as shingles, occurs after a herpetic breakout. The pain of neuropathic pain is usually constant, but can fluctuate in intensity. The pain is usually described as burning, aching or tightness. Many times numbness is present. This type of pain is difficult to treat and the procedures for classic TN can make this type of pain worse.

Answer :

TN is often caused by loss of or damage to the nerve’s protective coating, myelin. The most widely accepted view is that myelin damage results from irritation of the nerve, usually a blood vessel that causes the nerve to be compressed. Multiple sclerosis lesions and abnormal growths can also cause TN. Other types of facial pain can be caused by an outbreak of shingles or a similar virus or an injury to the nerve.

Answer :

TN is diagnosed almost exclusively by the individual’s description of the symptoms. To rule out other sources of facial pain, doctors typically order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan when TN is suspected, but that’s done to check for multiple sclerosis or a tumor that might be causing the pain. Compression of the nerve by a vessel can sometimes be seen on a MRI.

Answer :

Yes, both disorders are considered impairments, which can limit an individual’s ability to function on the job.

Answer :

Some people are encouraged when they talk to others who have experienced facial pain. TNA has support networks, offering people the chance to share their experiences with one another. Counseling can sometimes help an individual to sort through the stress and isolation that can accompany facial pain.

Answer :

Yes, it is normally treated with anticonvulsants. Tegretol (carbamazepine) is often the most effective treatment. Some of the other medications that are commonly prescribed are Dilantin, Carbatrol, Trileptal, and Lyrica. If these medications become ineffective or the side-effects become intolerable, surgical treatment may be offered.

Answer :

Some side effects may go away as your body adjusts to the medicine. Tell your healthcare provider if you have any side effects that continue or get worse.

Answer :

Sometimes, but it’s not likely. TN pain typically runs in cycles, and it is common for individuals with TN to experience periods of remission. Remission can last for weeks, months, and even years. Over time, the attacks tend to worsen with fewer and shorter pain-free periods.

Answer :

Several types of surgical procedures are available.

Microvascular Decompression Surgery (MVD): This procedure removes the cause of the TN pain. The MVD offers the best chance of long-term relief without damaging the nerve. The goal of the neurosurgeon is to lift the offending vessel from the trigeminal nerve by placing a padding between them. This procedure requires a craniotomy (surgical removal of a section of bone from the skull for the purpose of operating on the underlying tissues) and has the longest recovery time.

Damaging the nerve: Several procedures can be done to stop the transmission of pain signals to the brain. These procedures actually cause damage to the nerve and can be effective for varying lengths of time. Procedures that go through the cheek with a needle are glycerol injections, balloon compression, and radiofrequency lesioning. They can be done in the X-ray suite or the operating room. Sterotactic radiosurgery uses highly focused beams of radiation, causes a slow formation of a lesion in the nerve over a period of time to interrupt the pain transmission.

Answer :

It is important to be informed about possible risks or side-effects and what to expect the first week or so after surgery. Some procedures may take months before the individual with trigeminal neuralgia notices the results, so you may want to ask your doctor how much time it will take to know if your procedure has helped your pain. Another important thing to ask is what the surgeon’s success rates with this procedure are. You can follow up that question by asking what results the surgeon considers to be successful as well as unsuccessful.

Answer :

Medications sometimes help control neuropathic facial pain. People with neuropathic facial pain may be prescribed anticonvulsants such as Lyrica or Neurontin. Anti-depressants, such as Elavil or Cymbalta, can also help with the pain. Complementary Alternative Medical (CAM) treatments can also be helpful.

Answer :

Many people find that complementary alternative medical (CAM) treatments can bring some relief. These therapies include things like upper cervical chiropractic (UCC), acupuncture, herbal remedies and vitamins, or special diets.