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Posts for tag: facial pain
Our nerves serve a vital purpose, alerting us to bodily discomfort, injury or disease — we couldn’t remain in good health for long without them. But when they malfunction due to genetics or disease, they can themselves become a source of pain and discomfort.
One such nerve disorder that affects the face is known as trigeminal neuralgia (TN) or tic douloureaux (from the French for “painful”). The nerves in question are the trigeminal, a pair that travel up from the brain stem through the skull into each side of the face where they each branch into the upper, middle and lower parts of the face and jaw. The pain can radiate from one or more of these branches.
TN is characterized by recurring episodes of brief but severe pain with accompanying muscle spasms. It may begin as a short twinge recurring over weeks, months or years before becoming increasingly painful. The slightest actions can trigger a painful episode: chewing, speaking, shaving or even the wind blowing on your face.
While it may be hard to determine its exact cause, it often seems to result from an artery or vein pressing on the nerve, causing it to signal pain at the slightest stimulation and then failing to stop transmitting when the stimulation is removed. It’s also associated with other inflammatory disorders like multiple sclerosis where the protective insulation around a nerve is damaged.
Before receiving treatment you should undergo a complete examination to rule out any other facial pain causes like temporomandibular (jaw joint) disorders or a dental abscess. You may also need to undergo a neurological examination and possible MRI imaging to pinpoint the exact cause, like a tumor or blood vessel pressing on the nerve.
Although the condition may not be curable, there are several effective management treatments. The more conservative approaches usually involve medications to block the nerve’s pain signals or decrease its abnormal firing. If this isn’t sufficient to diminish symptoms, there are surgical options: passing a thin needle through the nerve to selectively prevent fibers from firing, or moving aside a blood vessel pressing on it. High-dose targeted radiation may also be effective, especially with older patients.
The best treatment approach will depend on the exact cause, your age and overall health. Whatever the approach, you can gain significant relief from the pain of TN.
Recurring episodes of severe pain along your face could mean you have trigeminal neuralgia (TN). Although not always curable, TN can be managed effectively with the right strategy.
TN affects a specific pair of nerves called the trigeminal that signal pain in the face or jaws. They originate from the brain stem through the skull on either side of the face, with each nerve having upper, middle and lower branches. TN can affect one or more of these branches and cause anywhere from a mild twinge to excruciating pain.
Causes for TN differ in individual patients. Though it could be linked to a tumor, lesion or cold sore, it most often seems to arise from a blood vessel impinging on the nerve and damaging its outer coating. This causes it to be hypersensitive: chewing, speaking or even lightly touching the face can set it off. The damaged nerve may also fail to "shut off" when the triggering stimulation stops.
If you have these types of symptoms, your first step is to obtain an accurate diagnosis. You'll need a thorough examination to rule out other possibilities like jaw joint problems or a tooth abscess. Once we've determined it's definitely TN, we can then devise a treatment strategy.
We usually begin with conservative measures like medication to block pain transmission to the brain or anticonvulsants that stabilize the nerve and decrease abnormal firing. If medication isn't enough, we may then consider an invasive procedure to control symptoms.
Percutaneous treatment — often recommended for older patients or those in poor health — involves inserting a thin needle into the nerve to selectively damage certain fibers that will prevent the nerve from signaling pain. We might be able to move an impinging blood vessel aside from the nerve with a microsurgical procedure. As an alternative to surgery, high-dose radiation could also be aimed precisely at the pain site with a controlled beam to alter the nerve's ability to transmit pain.
TN can be a source of great discomfort that lowers your quality of life. But employing treatment techniques that best suit your situation, we can greatly reduce the misery it inflicts.
If you would like more information on facial pain caused by trigeminal neuralgia, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Trigeminal Neuralgia: A Nerve Disorder that Causes Facial Pain.”