Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition that causes chronic pain in the face by affecting the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for bringing sensations from the face to the brain. When an individual has this condition, any stimulation of their face might cause jolts of pain, even gentle routines like applying makeup or brushing their teeth. At the onset, the attacks tend to be short and mild.
However, trigeminal neuralgia tends to progress and become more severe, causing more frequent and more intense pain. Women are more likely to have the condition than men, and the condition more commonly appears in those over fifty years old. There are multiple treatment options available, so patients aren't necessarily doomed to pain if they have trigeminal neuralgia.
Microvascular decompression is a surgical treatment option that releases abnormal compression of certain cranial nerves. It's used to treat trigeminal neuralgia, hemifacial spasm, and glossopharyngeal neuralgia. During this surgery, the surgeon will open the patient's skull and insert a sponge between the artery causing the pain signals and the nerve. This keeps the artery from sending more pain signals. Most doctors will recommend treating trigeminal neuralgia with medications first.
However, if pain medications cause too many dangerous side effects or aren't effective enough, patients might benefit from microvascular decompression. In many cases of trigeminal neuralgia, the trigeminal nerve is compressed by a blood vessel that increases pressure and causes a pulsing effect. Using a sponge to separate the blood vessel helps isolate the nerve, stopping it from carrying the pain signals to the brain.