Gamma Knife for Trigeminal Neuralgia: What You Need to Know

It wasn’t that long ago that the medical field had a poor understanding of trigeminal neuralgia. However, thanks to dedicated clinicians and researchers, doctors now know the primary cause of trigeminal neuralgia and how to treat it. One treatment option available in the tri-state area is Gamma Knife radiosurgery. The following information will help you better understand trigeminal neuralgia and how Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be used to treat your condition.

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery – It’s Not What You Think

Gamma Knife radiosurgery isn’t surgery at all. Instead, it’s a type of stereotactic radiosurgery, an advanced form of radiation therapy available in northern NJ. It doesn’t involve knives, incisions or even the need for a hospital stay. The procedure is minimally invasive and takes place in an outpatient setting while you are wide awake. It can be an excellent option for many NJ patients with trigeminal neuralgia.

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery for Trigeminal Neuralgia

During Gamma Knife radiosurgery, approximately 200 individual beams of low-dose radiation are focused on a treatment area as precise as 0.15 mm. That’s about the width of one human hair. This allows your doctor to focus on just the area of interest, sparing healthy surrounding brain tissues and other delicate structures. Following Gamma Knife radiosurgery for trigeminal neuralgia, 75-80% of patients experience “good to excellentpain relief, typically around the eight-week mark.

If your doctor recommends treatment for your trigeminal neuralgia, the first step is often trying medications, such as tricyclic antidepressants, anti-seizure medications or muscle relaxers. However, these are not helpful for everyone and can lose effectiveness over time. Some people may benefit from surgery to reposition or remove the blood vessel irritating the trigeminal nerve. As an alternative to surgery, Gamma Knife radiosurgery can typically achieve the same effects without any surgical risks or lengthy recovery time. This makes it an excellent treatment option for many patients.

Risks and Benefits of Gamma Knife Radiosurgery for Trigeminal Neuralgia

Your doctor will evaluate the risks and benefits of any procedures before making treatment recommendations. He or she will be the best person to discuss the risks and benefits of Gamma Knife radiosurgery as they relate to your individual condition. However, having a general understanding of what the majority of patients experience can be helpful.

Benefits of Gamma Knife radiosurgery include:

  • No incisions, which means no painful surgical site
  • No hospital stay
  • No anesthesia or surgical risks, like infection and bleeding
  • Brief, mild recovery, with most patients returning to work in a day or two
  • Many patients only require a single treatment session

Risks of Gamma Knife radiosurgery include:

  • Mild headache or nausea, treatable with medication
  • Fatigue for a day or two
  • Delayed swelling of the brain six months after treatment, addressed with medication
  • Facial numbness following treatment, though the risk is less than surgical procedures

Recovery Following Gamma Knife Radiosurgery for Trigeminal Neuralgia

Your recovery will be a very personal process. However, generally speaking, recovery following Gamma Knife radiosurgery is very brief and mild. Most patients are back to work and all other activities within just a day or two. There is no surgical recovery, so you don’t have to worry about taking weeks off of work to let your body recover. Some patients feel tired for a day or two. You may also have a headache or feel nauseous, but this is transient and your doctor can prescribe medication to make you more comfortable.

Continue the Discussion with Your Doctor

It’s great that you are learning more about your trigeminal neuralgia and the treatment options available in the tri-state area. The days of having to live with the pain of your condition are gone, and the nickname “suicide disease” is hopefully going to be a thing of the past. You have options and educating yourself about them is a great way to play an active role in your care.

What you’ve learned here has been information on a general level. It’s important that you continue the discussion with your personal doctor, who knows you and your individual condition best. Ask questions, find answers and make sure you are comfortable with what treatment, if any, your doctor recommends. Making informed decisions can help you have peace of mind as you work through the treatment process, and educating yourself is a great way to do that.

Understanding Trigeminal Neuralgia

If there’s one word to describe trigeminal neuralgia, it’s pain. Unfortunately, you likely know this all too well. Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic condition characterized by extreme facial pain to minor stimuli. Activities like brushing your teeth, smiling and laughing can be unbearable. Patients often experience flare-ups, with bouts of pain increasing in severity and frequency. There are no tests for trigeminal neuralgia. Instead, your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your symptoms and experiences.

The good news is doctors now understand the most common cause of your pain is a blood vessel in the brain impinging on the trigeminal nerve. This is the nerve that transmits sensory information from the face to the brain, including pain. The aberrant blood vessel irritates the nerve, overstimulating it and leading to inappropriate pain responses to otherwise painless stimuli.

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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