Most of us know that women are at a greater risk than men for developing a number of illnesses. Indeed, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, fibromyalgia and Alzheimer’s disease are all more common among females, as are lupus, osteoporosis and multiple sclerosis. What’s more, there are other, less common, illnesses and health complications that are more likely to affect women than men. One of these uncommon conditions is trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic, painful illness that typically affects women aged 50 and over.
The following is an overview of trigeminal neuralgia, which includes information on causes, signs and symptoms, treatment options and more.
What is Trigeminal Neuralgia?
Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic condition resulting from dysfunction of the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is responsible for carrying sensations from the brain to the face; when dysfunction occurs, patients often experience excruciating pain in the face, and often find it difficult to carry out everyday tasks like brushing their teeth or applying makeup.
In the beginning stages of trigeminal neuralgia, patients may experience mild, short-lived pain or discomfort. However, as the illness progresses, pain can become more intense, with episodes becoming more frequent and longer in duration. Typically, trigeminal neuralgia is associated with signs and symptoms like the following:
- Pain in the forehead, lips, gums, cheeks, teeth or eyes.
- Painful sensations that are often described as “searing” or “jolting.” The pain associated with this illness is also comparable to electric shock.
- Pain triggered by touching the face, chewing or speaking.
- Pain that is localized to one area, or one side of the face.
- Pan that, over time, becomes more intense and more frequent.
What Causes this Illness?
In most cases, this illness occurs when a blood vessel places pressure on the trigeminal nerve. Typically a result of aging, trigeminal neuralgia can also occur in patients with multiple sclerosis or other conditions that are associated with nerve damage or dysfunction. Less commonly, this illness develops as a result of a tumor, brain lesion or other abnormality.
Diagnosing Trigeminal Neuralgia
In determining whether or not a patient has trigeminal neuralgia, doctors usually rely on the patient’s description of pain and other symptoms. For example, the type and location of painful sensations are important factors in diagnosing this illness. Doctors may also ask about any triggers that lead to pain, including touching or moving the mouth or face. Also, to rule out other illnesses or complications, as well as identify tumors or brain lesions, an MRI scan may be necessary.
Initially, treating trigeminal neuralgia usually includes the use of anti-convulsant or anti-spasmadic medications. These drugs relieve symptoms by blocking or lessening pain signals in the brain, and are often effective in addressing the effects of trigeminal neuralgia. However, for patients who show no signs of improvement through drug therapy, surgery may be necessary in treating this illness. Trigeminal neuralgia surgery can include a number of methods, including those used to remove or relocate blood vessels that may be placing pressure on the trigeminal nerve.
If you think you’re suffering the effects of this illness, see a doctor as quickly as possible. While trigeminal neuralgia can be a painful, frustrating condition, the proper treatment can help you restore health and quality of life.