Trigeminal neuralgia


Distribution Trigeminal Neuralgia
  • Sudden and severe pain of trigeminal neuralgia as a lightning pain in the face
  • "tic doloreux" describes the pain that may be triggered by touch or cold
  • Incidence 5 /100,000, Women > Men, Onset often after 60 years of age
  • Bouts lasting weeks, remissions lasting months or years
  • Probably caused by compression of the trigeminal nerve root, close to the pons, by an aberrant arterial or venous loop
  • 1% have involvement of all three nerve branches
  • About 2% of patients with trigeminal neuralgia have multiple sclerosis

Differential Diagnosis

  • Dental infection or cracked tooth (well localised to tooth, local swelling and erythema)
  • TMJ pain (often bilateral, may radiate around ear neck, limited jaw opening)
  • Idiopathic facial pain (often bilateral, outside trigeminal territory, pain continuous & milder.)
  • Migraine (aura, severe unilateral, assoc GI upset, photophobia)
  • Temporal arteritis (constant pain, jaw claudication, fever, wt loss, tender non pulsatile temporal arts)


  • Standard first line treatment is Carbamazepine (NNT 2.6 v placebo) [Evidence Based Neurology]
  • 2nd line: if carbamazepine not effective, antidepressants are useful in neuropathic pain (NNT <5) [Bandolier 2008]
  • Other drugs including Lamotrigine, Phenytoin, Gabpentin, Oxcarbazine, Topiramate, Baclofen, and Clonazepam
  • For management of chronic pain please see Neuropathic Pain page in the analgesia section

Other interventions:

  • Microvascular decompression (surgical)
  • Methods producing a partial trigeminal nerve lesion
  • Neurectomy, radiofrequency thermal ablation, balloon compression, glycerol injections, and radiosurgery

Content by Dr Íomhar O' Sullivan. Last review Dr ÍOS 15/04/24.