Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition of recurring pain on one side of the face due to a malfunction of one or more of the three branches of the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is responsible for carrying sensation from the face to the brain. Trigeminal neuralgia is also known as tic douloureux, which means "painful tic."
The term tic is used because people with trigeminal neuralgia often contract their facial muscles, or wince when in pain, because the pain is so severe. Adults of any age can be affected; however, the disorder occurs more frequently as people age, and is more common in people over 50. Women are more likely than men to experience trigeminal neuralgia.
Trigeminal neuralgia is usually caused by a blood vessel pressing on the nerve inside the skull. Less commonly, multiple sclerosis or a tumour can cause trigeminal neuralgia. In many cases, however, there is no apparent cause.
Trigeminal neuralgia causes severe, piercing pain (tearing, darting, or sharp cutting sensation) that lasts from several seconds to several minutes. Painful episodes may recur in days, weeks, or months, and periods of remission may grow shorter as you age.
The pain can be excruciating and may be felt in any part of the lower portion of the face - usually in the cheek area near the nose or in the jaw area. Pain may also be felt in the lips, gums, cheek, chin, and sometimes forehead. The pain is usually felt only on one side of the face.
Pain can occur spontaneously or may be set off by touching a particular spot (trigger point) or even by smiling, talking, blowing the nose, brushing the teeth, or chewing.
Although the pain may be incapacitating, it's not life threatening. For some people, the pain is totally incapacitating, recurring as often as 100 times a day. When the pain is triggered by eating, people often lose weight because they are afraid to eat. The pain can be severe enough to wake people from sleep. Other people have a much milder form.