If you are experiencing a facial pain from simple activity, like brushing your teeth, talking, or eating, you might have trigeminal neuralgia. The trigeminal nerve is a nerve in your face that is responsible for facial sensation and some motor functions, and trigeminal neuralgia is a condition where this nerve response is impaired.
While some people experience mild trigeminal neuralgia, this condition can become more intense and cause more frequent spasms over time, so it's important to get it treated. Read on to learn more about this condition and how a neurosurgeon can help you.
What Causes It?
Trigeminal neuralgia is often caused by a blood vessel pressing against the trigeminal nerve. Over time, the pulse of the blood vessel can wear away at your nerve's protective sheath (myelin), which in turn can expose the nerve and make it highly sensitive to any sensations.
While blood vessels pressing on the nerve are often the culprits of this condition, seniors and people with certain health conditions, like multiple sclerosis, are at a higher risk for this condition.
Is It Related to TMJ Disorders?
Some people with trigeminal neuralgia are misdiagnosed with a TMJ disorder since there is an overlap in symptoms. However, the two conditions are different. While TMJ disorders usually cause pain from motor functions of chewing and talking, a light breeze or other mild sensation against the cheeks can trigger symptoms for people with trigeminal neuralgia. People with TMJ problems may mainly feel pain in their jaw joint, while people with trigeminal neuralgia can feel pain in their forehead, around their lips, and on their cheeks.
While both conditions can cause facial pain, trigeminal neuralgia's pain may feel like an electric shock or shooting pain compared to the aching muscle pain from TMJ dysfunction. Ultimately, you'll want to consult with a neurologist if you suspect that you have trigeminal neuralgia rather than a TMJ disorder. A neurologist can conduct reflex tests to determine if you have a compressed nerve. He or she can also do imaging tests, like MRIs, to see if the trigeminal neuralgia is a side effect of a a tumor, multiple sclerosis, etc.
How Can a Neurosurgeon Help?
Botox, muscle relaxants, and prescription medications can all help this condition. However, in more severe cases, you may want to seek out a neurosurgeon. While some people may think that neurosurgeons only help brain and spinal issues, they cover the gamut of nervous system disorders.
There are two main surgeries that can be used to help trigeminal neuralgia: stereotactic radiosurgery and microvascular decompression.
During stereotactic radiosurgery, a neurosurgeon would direct a focused dose of radiation at the root of the trigeminal nerve to reduce or eliminate pain altogether. Stereotactic radiosurgery is an amazing kind of technology since it uses a 3-dimensional coordinate system to precisely locate small targets inside the body and it is minimally invasive.
Your other option is microvascular decompression, which is more invasive since your doctor will need to access the nerve itself. Once the nerve is accessed, the surgeon would insert a sponge between the blood vessel and nerve to relieve compression. Some surgeons can also remove a portion of the trigeminal nerve if blood vessel compression isn't the main problem.
Contact a neurosurgeon in your area today for more information.