Following any medical diagnosis, one of your next steps is to learn about the treatments available. Historically, patients diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia had few options and instead focused on managing pain by avoiding triggers, which can be difficult and disruptive. Was there a trigeminal neuralgia cure? The answer has traditionally been, “No, there is not a trigeminal neuralgia cure.” But in recent years, doctors have gained a much better understanding of the condition and, as a result, can provide a new treatment for trigeminal neuralgia that makes suffering largely a thing of the past for the vast majority of patients.
Learning more about your condition and treatment options is a great way to set your mind at ease through the entire process, from diagnosis to recovery. The following information will give a little background on trigeminal neuralgia, as well as an overview of two innovative treatment options available in New Jersey that can help alleviate your pain. As you read through the information, be sure to take note of any questions you may have so you can bring them up with your doctor at your next appointment.
About Trigeminal Neuralgia
A quick explanation of the condition can be helpful when learning about a new treatment for trigeminal neuralgia. Essentially, something is causing your trigeminal nerve (which is responsible for pain and sensation signals from the face) to fire off when it should not be. For most patients, the cause is a blood vessel in the brain pressing on the nerve, but it can also be other structures, such as a tumor. In some exceedingly rare cases, the cause is indeterminable. Whatever the reason, this misfiring of the trigeminal nerve leads to the bouts of pain you experience. Many common activities can trigger an episode. Simply smiling or shaving — actions that should not set off a pain response – can send patients reeling. The goal of treatment is to prevent these episodes, as discussed below.
Treatment for Trigeminal Neuralgia
The first line of treatment for trigeminal neuralgia is prescription medication. However, some patients do not respond to the drugs or find they are less effective over time, necessitating a different treatment approach. The new treatments for trigeminal neuralgia listed below address the cause of the nerve overstimulation. That means they can prevent further attacks and are the closest thing to a cure available in northern NJ.
Microvascular decompression (MVD) is a surgical treatment option for trigeminal neuralgia administered in a hospital while you are asleep under general anesthesia. During MVD, the surgeon creates an incision and removes a small section of bone, granting access to the area where the blood vessel is rubbing against the trigeminal nerve. The surgeon places a small piece of Teflon between the two structures, preventing friction and further stimulation of the nerve. Then the surgeon replaces the bone and closes the incision site using sutures or staples.
Most patients will spend about two days recovering in the hospital and a week or so on activity restrictions at home. Because MVD stops the blood vessel from impinging on the nerve, it’s highly effective as a new treatment option for trigeminal neuralgia, and most patients will not experience recurring pain.
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
In contrast to MVD, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is not a surgical procedure requiring a hospital stay. Rather, it is an advanced form of radiation surgery available in NJ that can target the structure that is impinging on the trigeminal nerve with an accuracy of at least 0.15 mm – the width of two human hairs. That means that there is a reduced risk of damage to adjacent structures compared to other treatment methods.
Surgeons perform Gamma Knife in an outpatient setting, and the procedure typically takes 15-60 minutes. Trigeminal neuralgia patients most often only require a single treatment. Because Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a minimally invasive procedure, you return home the same day and can go back to your normal daily activities and work within a day or two.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery can be an excellent treatment option for patients who are not good candidates for surgery due to complicated health conditions or advanced age. Many patients who are eligible for MVD also qualify for Gamma Knife radiosurgery. If your doctor has not discussed it as a treatment option, you may wish to ask about it at your next appointment.
Find a Specialist to Handle Your Care
Trigeminal neuralgia is a complicated condition. Take the time to find someone knowledgeable and experienced in treating it in the tri-state area, and you will increase the likelihood of successful treatment. It is possible to manage your pain using behavioral changes, but that can be disruptive and does not guarantee you won’t continue to experience attacks. A trigeminal neuralgia specialist will work with you to develop a new treatment plan to provide effective relief through medications, MVD or Gamma Knife radiosurgery.