The main symptom of trigeminal neuralgia is a severe stabbing or piercing pain that is usually felt in the right side of the face.
The region of the face affected by the condition varies according to which branch of the trigeminal nerve is involved. The nerve is divided into the ophthalmic or upper branch, the maxillary or middle branch and the mandibular or lower branch.
Involvement of the ophthalmic branch may lead to pain above the eyes and in the forehead. If the maxillary branch is affected, pain may be felt in the cheek, side of the nose and upper jaw, gums and teeth. Involvement of the manibular branch may lead to pain in the lower jaw, teeth and gums. The maxillary branch is the most commonly affected and the ophthalmic branch is the least frequently affected.
Trigeminal neuralgia can be divided into three types according to the nature and frequency of the pain felt:
In type 1 or classic trigeminal neuralgia, the pain is often described as a stabbing or piercing pain occurring in episodes that last from seconds to minutes.
In the atypical form of the condition or type 2 trigeminal neuralgia, the pain is more constant and is usually described as an aching, throbbing sensation.
A third form of the condition is referred to as symptomatic trigeminal neuralgia and this refers to the facial pain that is felt as a result of another underlying cause such as a brain tumor or the neurodegenerative disease multiple sclerosis.
Triggers of trigeminal neuralgia
Trigeminal neuralgia can also be caused or aggravated by various trigger factors, which a sufferer may be able to identify in order to avoid episodes of the painful condition. Some examples of these triggers include:
- A gust of wind or a draught
- Hot or cold food or drink
- Talking, smiling or swallowing
- Brushing teeth or shaving
- Sudden head movements
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc