Trigeminal neuralgia is an extremely painful inflammation of the trigeminal nerve which causes severe lightning-like facial pain and spasm of the facial muscles on the involved side.
These painful attacks may occur after lightly touching different skin areas of the face, along the course of this cranial nerve. Specific medications can be very effective in reducing the rate of attacks, but surgical intervention may be necessary.
The causes of neuralgias are varied. Chemicals can cause nerve irritation. Inflammation, trauma (including surgery), compression by adjacent structures (tumors or inflamed tissues) and infections can all lead to neuralgias. In many cases, however, the cause is unknown or unidentifiable.
Neuralgias are most common in elderly persons, but they can occur at any age.
Trigeminal neuralgia is the most common form of neuralgia. It affects the main sensory nerve of the face, the trigeminal nerve. "Trigeminal" literally means "3 origins," referring to the division of the nerve into 3 branches. This condition involves sudden and short attacks of severe pain on 1 side of the face, along 1 of the areas supplied by the trigeminal nerve. The pain attacks may be severe enough to cause a facial grimace, which is classically referred to as a painful tic (tic douloureux).
The cause of trigeminal neuralgia is occasionally a blood vessel or small tumor pressing on the nerve. Disorders such as multiple sclerosis (an inflammatory disease affecting the brain and spinal cord), certain forms of arthritis and diabetes (high blood sugar) can also cause trigeminal neuralgia, but most commonly a cause is not identified.