You’re experiencing considerable pain on one side of your face that’s best described as shock-like. The most common cause of facial pain like this is trigeminal neuralgia, which affects 15,000 people in the United States each year.
As experts in nerve health and function, board-certified neurosurgeon Ali H. Mesiwala MD, FAANS and our team have considerable experience with helping patients who develop trigeminal neuralgia.
In this months’ blog post, we’re going to take a closer look at this painful condition and how we can help you find relief.
While most of your nerves travel from your brain through your spinal cord to create your peripheral nervous system, you have 12 pairs of cranial nerves that bypass this passageway. These nerves travel directly from your brain to parts of your upper body (your face, neck, and trunk) and serve mostly sensory roles, though some pairs do have motor functions.
Your trigeminal nerves are the fifth pair of cranial nerves and they start up toward the top of your ears and split into three branches. These branches control most of the sensations in your face, including inside your mouth.
When you have trigeminal neuralgia, there’s a malfunction in the nerve, which is usually caused by a blood vessel pressing up against the nerve or a breakdown in the protective myelin sheath around the nerve.
The symptoms that accompany trigeminal neuralgia can be debilitating. In many cases, it starts with sharp burning or shock-like pain in your face, typically around your jaw. The pain may occur after touching your face or they may develop out of nowhere. The pain typically lasts for a few seconds or a few minutes, but some people develop a constant burning sensation on one side of their faces.
Over time, the pain can travel to other parts of your face, though again, only on one side. Worse still, the attacks can become more frequent and more painful.
These attacks can be followed by symptom-free periods — sometimes for months — but they typically return and are often worse.
There are certain factors that may place you more at risk for developing trigeminal neuralgia. For example, the condition tends to develop in people over the age of 50 and it’s more common in women than in men.
If you have a condition like multiple sclerosis, which causes the breakdown in the myelin sheaths surrounding your nerves, you may be more at risk for developing trigeminal neuralgia.
In early trigeminal neuralgia, we can treat the pain with medications, such as anticonvulsants, antidepressants, or opioid-based painkillers.
Unfortunately, trigeminal neuralgia is often progressive, and you may build up resistance to medications. At this point, we offer surgical solutions that can help relieve the pain. There are different surgical solutions for trigeminal neuralgia, including ablating the nerve in a rhizotomy procedure, gamma knife stereotactic surgery, or moving the blood vessel that’s pressing up against the nerve and placing a tiny pad in between.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, however. Our first step is to determine whether you have trigeminal neuralgia or whether something else is causing the shock-like sensations in your face.
For expert diagnosis and treatment of trigeminal neuralgia, please contact one of our offices in Newport Beach, Marina del Rey, Rancho Cucamonga, or San Bernardino, California, to set up a consultation.