Trigeminal Neuralgia

Pain that pierces

Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition characterized by pain coming from the trigeminal nerve, which starts near the top of the ear and splits in three, toward the eye, cheek and jaw. We have two trigeminal nerves for each side of our face, but trigeminal neuralgia pain most commonly affects only one side.

If you have trigeminal neuralgia, you know how distressing it can be. You feel drained and hopeless. You live in fear of the next attack. But the good news is that some attacks are caused by specific triggers. Avoid those triggers and you may have fewer attacks. Here are some triggers we know about.

In trigeminal neuralgia, also called tic douloureux, the trigeminal nerve’s function is disrupted. Usually, the problem is contact between a normal blood vessel — in this case, an artery or a vein — and the trigeminal nerve at the base of your brain. This contact puts pressure on the nerve and causes it to malfunction.

Trigeminal neuralgia can occur as a result of aging, or it can be related to multiple sclerosis or a similar disorder that damages the myelin sheath protecting certain nerves. Trigeminal neuralgia can also be caused by a tumor compressing the trigeminal nerve.

Some people may experience trigeminal neuralgia due to a brain lesion or other abnormalities. In other cases, surgical injuries, stroke or facial trauma may be responsible for trigeminal neuralgia.


A variety of triggers may set off the pain of trigeminal neuralgia, including:

  • Shaving
  • Touching your face
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Talking
  • Putting on makeup
  • Encountering a breeze
  • Smiling
  • Washing your face


    Trigeminal neuralgia symptoms may include one or more of these patterns:

    • Episodes of severe, shooting or jabbing pain that may feel like an electric shock
    • Spontaneous attacks of pain or attacks triggered by things such as touching the face, chewing, speaking or brushing teeth
    • Bouts of pain lasting from a few seconds to several minutes
    • Episodes of several attacks lasting days, weeks, months or longer — some people have periods when they experience no pain
    • Constant aching, burning feeling that may occur before it evolves into the spasm-like pain of trigeminal neuralgia
    • Pain in areas supplied by the trigeminal nerve, including the cheek, jaw, teeth, gums, lips, or less often the eye and forehead
    • Pain affecting one side of the face at a time, though may rarely affect both sides of the face
    • Pain focused in one spot or spread in a wider pattern
    • Attacks that become more frequent and intense over time


    When to See a Doctor

    If you experience facial pain, particularly prolonged or recurring pain or pain unrelieved by over-the-counter pain relievers, see your doctor.


    Trigeminal neuralgia is sudden, severe facial pain. It’s often described as a sharp shooting pain or like having an electric shock in the jaw, teeth or gums. It usually happens in short, unpredictable attacks that can last from a few seconds to about 2 minutes. The attacks stop as suddenly as they start.

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