Finding Answers to Your Questions
You’ve finally gotten one answer to a very big question: your doctor confirmed your trigeminal neuralgia diagnosis. This can be a long process for some patients, and you may be feeling some relief at this point. However, your trigeminal neuralgia diagnosis has likely led you to wonder, “What’s next?” The information below will help you answer that question, as well as others you may have at this point.
Understanding Trigeminal Neuralgia
Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that can be debilitating in its severity. The trigeminal nerve is the largest of the paired cranial nerves, transmitting sensory information from the scalp, face and inside the mouth. If something causes the deterioration of the nerve’s protective coating, myelin, the nerve can begin “misfiring,” leading to inappropriate pain signals in response to normal activities like smiling or brushing your teeth. The most common culprit is a blood vessel in the brain compressing the nerve, though other causes include multiple sclerosis and tumors.
Diagnosing Trigeminal Neuralgia
There is no definitive test for trigeminal neuralgia. Instead, your doctor will make a trigeminal neuralgia diagnosis based on a combination of your symptoms and ruling out other conditions. This is one reason it is important to work with a specialist within the tri-state area who can understand and manage your condition. All patients with trigeminal neuralgia will experience pain, which can range from aching to excruciating, due to the nature of the condition.
As part of the diagnosis process, your doctor may order diagnostic imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan. This is typically done to rule out a tumor or other causes for your symptoms. Occasionally, the offending blood vessel that is impinging on the trigeminal nerve can be seen on these images, further confirming your trigeminal neuralgia diagnosis.
Your Next Steps
You have your trigeminal neuralgia diagnosis, so now what? While your experience is going to be a very individual one, consider taking the following steps to help you move forward from here.
Work with a Specialist
Thanks to the hard work of researchers and clinicians, doctors have a better understanding of trigeminal neuralgia and how to treat it. However, it is important to find a specialist in northern NJ experienced with your condition and the treatment options available. He or she will work with you to develop a treatment plan that fits your individual needs, considering the cause of your trigeminal neuralgia and other personal health factors.
If your trigeminal neuralgia is caused by an impinging blood vessel, there are multiple treatment options available in the NJ area. These include medication, surgery and Gamma Knife radiosurgery.
- Medications can sometimes ease symptoms, but they do not address the cause of your trigeminal neuralgia. However, anti-seizure medications, muscle relaxers and tricyclic antidepressants can reduce the number of painful attacks. Your doctor may recommend medications to ease symptoms until your treatment or if you are not a candidate for other treatments.
- Your doctor may recommend surgery to physically relocate the offending blood vessel. This option eliminates the cause of your pain, allowing the nerve to heal and function properly.
- If the blood vessel is in a difficult area to access, you are not a good surgical candidate or you simply prefer a minimally invasive treatment option, your doctor may recommend Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Using almost 200 individual beams of low dose radiation, the surgeon can achieve the same effects as surgery without any incisions or a hospital stay
Continue Educating Yourself
As you move beyond your diagnosis and into the treatment planning phase, continue to educate yourself about the options available to you in northern NJ. This will help you in your conversations with your doctor, allowing you to have more confidence as you move towards your treatment date. Self-education is a powerful way to set your mind at ease throughout this process and can help you plan for any upcoming treatment and recovery ahead of time, both mentally and physically.
Form a Support Network
Throughout this process, remember you are not alone. Reach out to family and friends who can provide you comfort and support as you learn more about your condition. You may also want to look for online communities of other people diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia. It can be reassuring to speak with others who have experienced trigeminal neuralgia pain and who understand the emotional process of a trigeminal neuralgia diagnosis. This is also a good way to learn more about treatment options and the recovery process, giving you an idea of what you can expect.
Keep the Conversation Going
At this point, you have an idea of steps you can take following your trigeminal neuralgia diagnosis. However, it is important to continue the conversation with your personal doctor. He or she will be able to discuss your specific condition and circumstances with you, guiding you as you move along your treatment path. Be sure to bring up any questions or concerns you have at your next appointment. Your doctor is there to help ensure you are confident and comfortable before, during and after your trigeminal neuralgia treatment.