Chronic Facial Pain: Could It Be Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Nov 06, 2023
Chronic Facial Pain: Could It Be Trigeminal Neuralgia?
Do you have unusual, chronic facial pain that causes severe, stabbing, or shock-like sensations in certain areas of your face? It could be a sign of trigeminal neuralgia. Here’s when you should suspect this diagnosis. 

Facial pain can be distressing and debilitating. It interferes with daily activities and significantly impacts your quality of life. If you're experiencing chronic facial pain that seems to come and go suddenly, intensifies during routine activities like eating or speaking, and feels like an electric shock, you may be dealing with a condition called trigeminal neuralgia.

Although rare, doctors diagnose up to 15,000 cases of trigeminal neuralgia every year. At Alabama Neurological Surgery & Spine, we specialize in diagnosing and treating this often-misunderstood disorder. Here, we help you understand the causes of trigeminal neuralgia, its symptoms, and available treatments.

Understanding trigeminal neuralgia

Also known as "tic douloureux," this neurological condition is characterized by recurrent episodes of severe, stabbing, or shock-like pain in the areas supplied by the trigeminal nerve. This nerve, which is responsible for transmitting sensory information from your face to your brain, can malfunction and send incorrect signals, causing excruciating pain.

Common symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia

Some signs that your chronic facial pain could be trigeminal neuralgia include:

Sudden, severe, and electric shock-like facial pain

Trigeminal neuralgia is often described as one of the most painful conditions known to medicine. Everyday activities such as eating, drinking, talking, or even touching your face can trigger pain.

Episodes of pain

These episodes can last for seconds to minutes and often occur multiple times a day. Even the slightest facial movement can trigger an episode. 

Unilateral pain

Trigeminal neuralgia usually affects one side of the face, most commonly the right side, but it can affect the left side as well.

Remission periods

Between episodes, patients may experience periods of remission without pain. As your condition progresses, these pain-free intervals can become shorter.

Diagnosis and treatment

Diagnosing trigeminal neuralgia requires a comprehensive evaluation by our neurosurgical team. We gather a thorough medical history, conduct a physical examination, and perform imaging tests, such as MRI or CT scans. This helps us rule out other conditions that mimic the symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia.

Treatment options for trigeminal neuralgia include:


Initially, we may prescribe anticonvulsant medications such as carbamazepine or oxcarbazepine to control pain. These drugs work by stabilizing abnormal electrical signals in the trigeminal nerve.

Nerve blocks

In some cases, our doctors may perform a nerve block procedure to numb the trigeminal nerve temporarily and provide relief from pain.

Surgical interventions

When medications and nerve blocks don’t provide sufficient relief, the neurosurgeons may consider surgical options. These include microvascular decompression (MVD), gamma knife radiosurgery, or radiofrequency ablation. Each of these procedures can alleviate pressure on the trigeminal nerve or interrupt the faulty signals causing pain.

Trigeminal neuralgia can be an incredibly painful and distressing condition, but effective treatments are available to manage and alleviate the pain. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia, reach out to Alabama Neurological Surgery & Spine. 

We specialize in diagnosing and treating complex neurological conditions. Call today or use our online request tool to book an appointment.