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Trigeminal Neuralgia

Sharp, severe, shooting pain on one side of the face is known as trigeminal neuralgia or tic douloureaux.

Named for the three-pronged trigeminal (fifth cranial) nerve, this chronic pain condition causes sudden, intermittent, extreme burning or shock-like pain in the face. Although the pain seldom lasts more than a few seconds or, at most, a minute or two, the intensity can be physically and mentally draining. More women than men develop this condition that often worsens over time, with fewer and shorter pain-free periods between distressing, unpredictable episodes.

Triggers for Trigeminal Neuralgia

The intense flashes of TN pain may be triggered by vibration or contact with the cheek from activities such as:

  • Washing the face
  • Applying makeup
  • Shaving
  • Brushing teeth
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Talking
  • Exposure to wind or breezes

Diagnosing trigeminal neuralgia can be difficult because many other conditions can cause face pain. Treatments for various types of face pain differ, so finding the cause and making an accurate diagnosis is key to effectively dealing with TN.

Trigeminal Neuralgia Treatments at Reston Hospital Center

Our neuroscience specialists at Reston Hospital offer TN treatment options including:

  • Medication with anticonvulsants or tricyclic antidepressants
  • Glycerol injection through the mouth–performed with local anesthesia on an outpatient basis–to reach the junction of the trigeminal nerve near the jaw
  • Microvascular decompression, also known as craniotomy, an open surgical procedure where a small piece of skull behind the ear is removed to reach the trigeminal nerve when the cause of TN appears to be pressure on the nerve from a blood vessel

Learn more about trigeminal neuralgia in our online Health Library.

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