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Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia causes intense facial pain that can stop you in your tracks. The pain is so severe that seconds can feel like hours. But experts at Henry Ford Health put relief within reach.

Our experience from treating nearly 1,000 patients with trigeminal neuralgia gives you access to an exceptional level of care. We build lasting relationships with patients, so you can count on us for appropriate therapies, even if your needs change.

What is trigeminal neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia is facial pain that stems from problems with the trigeminal nerve. This nerve provides sensation to your face and the inside of your mouth. In many cases, pain is due to tiny movements from a nearby blood vessel as blood flows through it. Other neurologic conditions, including multiple sclerosis, cysts and tumors, can also cause trigeminal neuralgia.

Over time, the nerve’s protective outer lining wears away, causing sensitivity to the lightest touch. Even a gentle breeze can trigger pain attacks that feel like electric shocks. As a progressive disease, symptoms continually worsen and often stop responding to treatment.

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Trigeminal neuralgia symptoms

Trigeminal neuralgia symptoms can affect you in many different ways. The pain may:

  • Feel like jolts of electricity or a constant dull burning sensation
  • Start after gently touching your face, chewing food or brushing your teeth
  • Last a few seconds or a few minutes and occur several times a day for months
  • Affect one side of the face
  • Occur in the jaw, cheek, lips or gums
  • Become more frequent and intense over time

Trigeminal neuralgia care at Henry Ford: Why choose us?

Our team includes multiple specialists making it easier for you to receive care when you need it most. We take time to get to know you as an individual, so you receive the best therapies for your needs. And if the pain comes back, we are here for you with additional care options and the support you deserve.

Highlights of our program include:

  • Accurate diagnosis: In addition to a comprehensive neurologic exam, advanced imaging techniques detect nerve compression and how severe it is. We use a specific type of high-resolution MRI to assess details that are easy to miss with standard imaging studies. This technique helps us distinguish trigeminal neuralgia from other types of facial pain.
  • Personalized care: Initial trigeminal neuralgia treatments include precise doses of select medications and regular monitoring. Our team is among a few in the region capable of delivering this type of care. The experts’ careful attention to your needs helps you achieve the best possible results.
  • Team approach: Headache neurologists and neurosurgeons specializing in trigeminal neuralgia are in regular communication throughout your care journey. Arriving at the correct diagnosis often takes multiple conversations. As symptoms progress, we carefully plan the next steps of your care.
  • Support: Living with trigeminal neuralgia presents unique challenges. We listen carefully as you explain how it affects your life and offer recommendations to help you cope. You may also benefit from participating in a local trigeminal neuralgia support group. Our experts occasionally participate in these meetings to share helpful information.

Trigeminal neuralgia evaluation

A comprehensive approach helps us pinpoint the source of your pain to confirm or rule out trigeminal neuralgia. We consider uncommon causes for your symptoms, including other neurologic conditions and complications from dental procedures.

The cornerstone of trigeminal neuralgia evaluation is the information we gather from your health history and neurologic exam. We may ask you:

  • What the pain feels like
  • When the symptoms typically occur
  • Therapies you’ve tried and whether you experienced relief or side effects
  • Your health history, including whether you’ve experienced conditions, like shingles that can cause facial pain
  • About any recent dental work you’ve had

If we determine your symptoms are not due to trigeminal neuralgia, you still have options. Facial pain experts refer you to the appropriate Henry Ford specialist. For sinus or jaw problems, you may benefit from seeing an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Trigeminal neuralgia treatment

We develop a personalized care plan that starts with nonsurgical options, such as medications and injections. As trigeminal neuralgia progresses, you may need one or more surgical procedures to maintain symptom relief.

Nonsurgical treatments for trigeminal neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia does not typically respond to standard pain medications, even in the early stages of the disease. If you might benefit, we prescribe the drug and dose that’s best for your needs. Care often includes regular follow-up visits and blood tests to monitor your progress. We help you get relief with other treatments that may include:

  • Epilepsy (anti-seizure) medications that quiet overactive nerves even if you don’t have epilepsy. Each person responds differently. We start you on a small dose and gradually increase it, so you get relief while keeping side effects manageable.
  • Muscle relaxants, including baclofen, which work by slowing the release of the brain’s pain signals. You may need to take muscle relaxants in addition to anti-seizure medications to maximize symptom relief.
  • Antidepressants that decrease the brain’s ability to transmit pain signals. We may recommend this option even if you do not have depression. It can take a few weeks for these medications to start working.
  • Injections may be an option if medication side effects become too much to bear. The injections provide temporary relief for symptom flare-ups. Find out more about headache nerve blocks and injections.

Surgery for trigeminal neuralgia

In patients for whom medications are not successful or who experience unbearable side effects, surgery may be helpful. Our experienced neurosurgeons perform the procedure that’s best for your needs. Surgery may relieve trigeminal nerve compression or disrupt the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals.

Our team is one of the few in Michigan to offer the entire spectrum of surgical options. These capabilities enable us to tailor therapies to your individual needs. Get more information about trigeminal neuralgia and other facial pain procedures.

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