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What You Need To Know

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN)  is the most common cause of facial pain and is diagnosed in more than 15,000 people per year within the United States. It doesn’t usually run in families.


(TN) most frequently affects people 50 years and older, and the condition is significantly more common in women than men.


What is trigeminal neuralgia?

(TN); also known as tic douloureux, meaning "painful tic", is a condition characterized by pain originating from the trigeminal nerve; The trigeminal nerve separates into three branches: ophthalmic, maxillary and mandibular. Each branch provides sensation to different parts of the face. Depending on which branch and which part of the nerve is affected, trigeminal neuralgia pain can be felt anywhere in the face. Primarily, it is felt in the lower part of the face. The intensity of the pain is exceptional: Some people report it to be more severe than experiencing a heart attack, passing kidney stones or even childbirth. There are two trigeminal nerves for each side of our face; however, trigeminal neuralgia pain most commonly affects only one side.

The pain associated with trigeminal neuralgia is unlike any facial pain caused by other conditions. It is often described as stabbing, lancinating or electrical in sensation and can become so severe that the affected person cannot eat or drink. The pain radiates through the face in a matter of seconds, but as the condition progresses, it tends to lasts even longer.

Pain episodes may be triggered by anything touching the face or teeth, including shaving, the application of makeup, brushing teeth, touching a tooth or a lip with the tongue, eating, drinking, speaking; or even a light breeze or water hitting the face; followed by periods of relief between episodes. Anxiety from the thought of the pain returning is often reported. 

A flare-up of trigeminal neuralgia may start with a tingling or numbing sensation in the face. Pain occurs in intermittent bursts that can last anywhere from a few seconds to two minutes, becoming more and more frequent until the pain is almost continuous.

Flare-ups may continue for a few weeks or months followed by a pain-free period that can last a year or more. Although trigeminal neuralgia pain may seem to disappear, it always comes back, often with more intensity.

In some cases, instead of sharp, stabbing pain, trigeminal neuralgia appears as a persisting dull ache. This and other symptom variations are sometimes described as “atypical trigeminal neuralgia.”

Trigeminal neuralgia typically occurs spontaneously, but may also be associated with facial trauma or dental procedures.


While rare, multiple sclerosis or a tumor can also cause trigeminal neuralgia. Researchers and scientists are exploring whether or not postherpetic neuralgia (caused by shingles) could be related to this condition as well.

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