Gamma Knife for Trigeminal Neuralgia: Side Effects, Risks and Recovery

Until relatively recently, trigeminal neuralgia has been difficult to diagnose and treat, leaving those suffering with few options for relief. However, because of an increased awareness of the condition and the development of new technologies, there are now improved treatment options available, including Gamma Knife radiosurgery.

Whether you have only recently been diagnosed or have already undergone some form of treatment for your trigeminal neuralgia, it is important you seek out an expert in the condition, such as a neurologist or neurosurgeon. Because there are no blood tests or images that can be done to confirm a diagnosis, it is critical that you discuss your symptoms with someone experienced in diagnosing and managing trigeminal neuralgia patients.

About Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that results from dysfunction of the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensory signals from the face to the brain. Patients experience pain in the areas innervated by the nerve, which can be intense and unrelenting and without any identifiable cause. While anyone can develop the condition, it tends to affect women over age 50 and often occurs when a blood vessel near the brain puts pressure on the nerve, triggering constant painful sensations.

If you have been diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan for your condition. The first step in treatment is generally medication, which can help reduce pain and prevent episodes. However, some patients will require further intervention, and Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be an excellent option.

About Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

Though it may sound like a surgical procedure, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is actually a specialized form of radiation treatment that does not require any incisions or even a hospital stay. Instead, Gamma Knife uses focused beams of radiation to target just the area to be treated, sparing healthy surrounding tissue in a completely noninvasive manner and preventing many unpleasant side effects often associated with radiation therapy.

The procedure itself takes place in an outpatient setting, often within a hospital. You are awake through the entire treatment and are able to communicate with your care team at any time. During the procedure, you will wear a device called a frame on your head, which will help position you exactly where you need to be and prevent any movement.

Once the frame is secured, the doctor and radiology team will take and review several MRIs to finalize the treatment plan. When everything has been confirmed, your treatment will begin. You will rest on a special table, keeping you stabilized and still throughout the procedure. Treatment typically takes between 15 minutes to over an hour, depending on the location and size of the area being treated.

Side Effects and Risks of Gamma Knife for Trigeminal Neuralgia

Though Gamma Knife radiosurgery carries less risk than traditional surgery or radiation therapy, any medical procedure has potential side effects. Immediately following your treatment, you may feel a little nauseous or have a headache. If this occurs, your doctor can give you medications to help you feel more comfortable. This is typically temporary and passes within a few days.

Some patients experience pain or swelling at the areas where the doctor positioned the frame on the scalp, which will subside within a few days. There could be a small amount of bleeding or itching as the pin sites heal. You may also feel fatigued during the first few days after your treatment, but this is usually far less severe than fatigue experienced following traditional radiation therapy. Sometimes swelling occurs approximately six months after your Gamma Knife radiosurgery. However, this can be easily treated with medication, which your doctor will prescribe for you, if necessary. Your doctor will monitor you for any swelling at your follow-up appointments, so it is important you discuss any lingering or new symptoms you may be experiencing.

Recovery Following Gamma Knife for Trigeminal Neuralgia

Because of the minimally invasive nature of Gamma Knife radiosurgery, you will be able to go home the same day as your treatment and will not need to stay overnight in the hospital. Most patients are released within a couple of hours of completion of the procedure. You will be able to resume your everyday activities, including returning to work, within a day or so.

It is important to keep in mind that some patients will require more than one treatment session, and results are gradual and very individual. However, Gamma Knife radiosurgery has demonstrated excellent results, with the majority of trigeminal neuralgia patients experiencing relief from pain.

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery for Your Trigeminal Neuralgia

Whether your doctor has already recommended Gamma Knife radiosurgery for your trigeminal neuralgia or you have yet to receive a diagnosis, it is important you bring any questions or concerns you may have to your next medical appointment. Trigeminal neuralgia has historically been difficult to diagnose and treat, but patients have more options than ever as research and practice have improved understanding of the condition.

If your doctor has not discussed the possibility of Gamma Knife for trigeminal neuralgia, and medications have not provided relief, you may wish to ask about it or consider seeking someone who is experienced with the technology. With its demonstrated success and minimally invasive nature, Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be an excellent treatment option for many patients.

Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.N.S
Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.N.S
Dr. Anthony D’Ambrosio is a board-certified neurosurgeon that specializes in Neurosurgery, Stereotactic Radiosurgery, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery (GKRS) and more. He is the Director of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the Gamma Knife Program at The Valley Hospital. Dr. D’Ambrosio is an expert in treating patients with trigeminal neuralgia, benign or malignant brain tumors, as well as many other neurological conditions.

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