More than 60 percent of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) suffer from pain, which can range from mild to debilitating. While headaches, arm and leg pain, and back pain are common, facial pain caused by a chronic condition called trigeminal neuralgia can also be an excruciating companion to MS.
Trigeminal neuralgia affects the largest nerve in the head, the fifth cranial or trigeminal nerve, which carries sensations from the face to the brain. MS is thought to damage myelin, a protective coating that wraps around these nerves. This can trigger symptoms, typically in the form of severe bursts of stabbing pain that are centered around the jaw, cheeks or eyes.
Though a relatively low number of people with MS experience trigeminal neuralgia — about 5 percent — the condition is 20 times more common in those with MS than in the general population. Patients with MS and trigeminal neuralgia tend to be younger (mid-40s, on average), have pain on both sides of the face and may be experiencing other neurological symptoms, such as dizziness or weakness/numbness in the arms or legs.
Before the advent of technology such as Gamma Knife, interventions to treat trigeminal neuralgia were left as a last resort because of the high risk of complications. That often meant patients had to wait till their suffering had become unbearable.
With no incisions needed, Gamma Knife is the least invasive treatment available and the least likely to cause complications. The “knife” in Gamma Knife refers to 192 precise beams of radiation that converge and create a powerful dose of concentrated radiation aimed at damaging the trigeminal nerve so pain signals can no longer be transmitted — all with minimal effect on surrounding healthy tissue. Results, measured in the degree and duration of pain relief, are typically excellent.
To learn more about treating trigeminal neuralgia caused by MS, contact the experienced and compassionate Gamma Knife team at Valley. We can help determine if this treatment is right for you.