Facial neuralgia, also known as trigeminal neuralgia, is a painful disorder that affects the trigeminal nerve which is responsible for carrying sensation from the face to the brain. In most cases, the pain is caused by a blood vessel pressing on the nerve. Less commonly, the pain may be the result of nerve damage (multiple sclerosis, tumour, aneurysm).
The incidence of trigeminal neuralgia is estimated at 4 to 13 cases per 100,000 people. Women are about 3 times more likely to have this condition than men, and it is more common in people over 50. Up to 8% of patients with multiple sclerosis have trigeminal neuralgia.
Symptoms and complications
The main symptom is pain on one side of the face. Initially, the pain is moderate and short-lived. Over time, as the condition progresses, the pain may become sharper and more frequent. The pain itself can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and, in some rare instances, can recur as often as 100 times a day. Lightly touching a certain area or performing simple day to day activities such as drinking, eating, smiling or brushing one's teeth is enough to trigger sharp, piercing, electric shock-like pain. The pain can affect the lips, jaw, gums and cheeks. Although not as common, the forehead can also be affected.
When the pain is triggered by eating, those affected often lose weight because they are afraid to eat. If the pain is very intense, sleep may also be disrupted.
You should see your doctor if your facial pain is not relieved by over-the-counter analgesics. There are no specific diagnostic tests. Diagnosis is based solely on the description of the pain.
To achieve maximum relief, it is important to treat trigeminal neuralgia. Here are some common treatment options:
- Antiseizure drugs (Tegretol, Neurontin, Lyrica, etc.): to stabilize nerve cell membranes
- Antispasmodic drugs (Lioresal): to control spasms
In some patients, trigeminal neuralgia does not respond to medication. Surgery is therefore an option.
For more information, do not hesitate to speak to your pharmacist.