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 trigeminal neuralgia and, as a result, can provide treatment 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 trigeminal neuralgia can be helpful when learning about treatment options. 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, it is a blood vessel in the brain pressing on the nerve, but the cause can be other structures, such as a tumor. Very rarely, the cause cannot be determined.
It’s this misfiring of the trigeminal nerve that leads to the bouts of pain you experience. There are many common activities that 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.
Treating Trigeminal Neuralgia
The first line of treatment for trigeminal neuralgia is prescription medication. However, some patients do not respond to the drugs at all or find they are less effective over time, necessitating a different treatment approach. The following treatment options address the cause of the nerve overstimulation, which means they can prevent further attacks and are the closest thing to a trigeminal neuralgia cure available in northern NJ.
Microvascular decompression (MVD) is a surgical treatment option for trigeminal neuralgia that takes place 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. The bone is replaced, and the incision site is closed 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 the blood vessel is no longer impinging on the trigeminal nerve, MVD is highly effective as a trigeminal neuralgia cure and most patients will not experience recurring pain.
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
In contrast to MVD, Gamma Knife radiosurgery is not a surgical procedure and does not require a hospital stay. Rather, it is an advanced form of radiation surgery available in NJ that can be used to 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. This means that there is a reduced risk of damage to adjacent structures as compared to other treatment methods.
Gamma Knife is performed in an outpatient setting, and the procedure itself 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 can also be treated using 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 with the knowledge and expertise in treating trigeminal neuralgia 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 specialist in trigeminal neuralgia will be able to work with you to develop a treatment plan to provide relief in the most effective way for you, whether that be through medications, MVD or Gamma Knife radiosurgery.
“I am now experiencing a quality of life that I didn’t think was ever possible again.” - Paul Brush