Trigeminal Neuralgia, also called TN, is a neuropathic disorder characterized by episodes of intense electric shock-like pain or stabbing pain in the face, originating in the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve carries the feelings of touch and pain from the face, eyes, sinuses, and mouth to the brain. The condition usually affects adults, but it may affect anyone at any age. An estimated 1 in 15,000 people suffer from TN however, the actual number may be significantly higher due to the high rate of misdiagnosis. Trigeminal Neuralgia can also be known as TGN, tic douloureaux or prosopalgia.
TN may be caused by the normal aging process, Multiple sclerosis or pressure on the trigeminal nerve from a swollen blood vessel or tumor. Sometimes no cause is found, but doctors are more likely to find a cause in patients who are under 40 years of age.
Signs and Symptoms
Common symptoms of TN can include extremely painful, sharp electric-like spasms that typically last a few seconds or minutes, but can become longer in duration or even constant. This pain is usually on one side of the face and often in the area of the eye, cheek and lower face.
Pain can be triggered by sounds, wind, touch, or common daily activities like:
- brushing teeth
For reasons that are not yet known, TN sufferers rarely have pain attacks while sleeping. The reason TN patients feel no pain while they are sleeping, even though a pillow may be in contact with their tripper point, remains a mystery to the medical community. This lack of pain during sleep is commonly used as a diagnostic tool when determining if a patient has TN or some other condition, like migraine or toothache.
There is also a classification of TN called atypical trigeminal neuralgia, or trigeminal neuralgia type 2. In some cases of TN type 2, the patient experiences a severe, relentless underlying pain similar to a migraine in addition to the stabbing shock-like pains. Sometimes the pain is a combination of shock-like sensation, migraine-like pain, and burning or prickling pain.