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Trigeminal neuralgia: Causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment

What is trigeminal neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia is a sharp and unpredictable pain that feels like an electric shock affecting the face, teeth, gums or jaw.

What are the symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia?

The extreme pain can last from a matter of seconds to a couple of minutes. Pain attacks can affect someone rarely - or regularly - sometimes many times the same day. These may be intermittent or may come in 'volleys'.

There may be periods with no pain followed by attacks - though over time many people with the condition find the time between attacks gets shorter.

One side of the face is usually affected rather than both sides.

During an attack of trigeminal neuralgia the pain is usually too severe to do anything until the pain eases.

A person may have a sense of an attack coming on - but they can often be unexpected.

People with trigeminal neuralgia may be concerned about certain activities triggering the pain - so may try to avoid simple things like shaving or putting on makeup.

The extreme pain - and the fear of attacks - can cause mental health problems, including depression or suicidal thoughts.

Seek medical advice about trigeminal neuralgia symptoms.

What causes trigeminal neuralgia?

The trigeminal nerve is located inside the skull near the stem of the brain and is linked to other parts of the face and mouth where it receives information about touch and pain.

If this important nerve gets squashed for some reason, signals get scrambled and extreme pain signals can result.

Pressure can come from:

What triggers trigeminal neuralgia?

The extreme pain can be triggered by being in a draft, a light touch to the face, brushing teeth, a kiss, turning the head - or it can come on with no obvious trigger.

How is trigeminal neuralgia diagnosed?

A doctor or dentist will begin to diagnose trigeminal neuralgia based on the symptoms, the person's medical history and a physical examination.

They will ask about the symptoms, how the pain feels, how long it lasts and the parts of the face affected.

A dentist will usually take X-rays to check for other possible causes of the pain, such as problems with teeth.

There is no test to diagnose trigeminal neuralgia - but tests such as MRI scans may be arranged to rule out other causes of the pain, such as MS pain or sinusitis. These brain scans can also be used to look for blood vessel problems near the trigeminal nerve.

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