The term neuralgia refers to a combination of two words "neuro" meaning relating to nerves and "algesia" meaning sensitivity to pain. Neuralgia therefore describes pain felt in one or more nerves.
Normally, pain is triggered by the stimulation of pain receptors but in the case of neuralgia, pain occurs without excitation of these receptors and is instead caused by an abnormal change in the structure or function of the nerves.
Types of neuralgia
There are two main types of neuralgia which are categorised according to the location of the pain:
This describes neuralgia originating in the spinal cord or brain.
This refers to neuralgia originating in the peripheral nervous system.
Some of the most common examples of neuralgia include:
Where pain originating from the trigeminal nerve causes intense facial pain that may be felt as an electric shock sensation, a shooting pain or a burning, crushing or pressing feeling.
Atypical trigeminal neuralgia
Characterized by an aching and burning in the cheeks, sinuses, forehead, jaws, eye area and temples along with a persistent headache and, occasionally, an electric shock-like sensation. Unlike typical neuralgia, this neuralgia can also be felt across the scalp and neck.
Which arises as a result of herpes varicella virus and follows a herpes zoster outbreak, otherwise known of as shingles. This condition causes a variable degree of pain which may range from mild to severe and can be felt as a burning or stabbing sensation.
Also sometimes called Arnold's neuralgia. In this condition, damage to the lesser and greater optical nerves causes pain or reduced sensation in the neck, back of the head area and behind the eyes.
Glossopharyngeal neuralgia A rare disorder that causes repeated pain in the tonsil and surrounding area of the throat and back of the tongue due to a disorder of the glossopharyngeal nerve.
Diagnosis and treatment
Neuralgia is often difficult to diagnose. Diagnosis generally involves stimulating nerve pathways to find the damaged nerve or detecting missing sensory or motor function using an electromyography (EMG) test or a nerve conduction test.
It is difficult to treat neuralgia since this type of pain does not respond to the usual pain relievers. Examples of drugs that are effective include anticonvulsants and antidepressants.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc