Symptoms and causes

Symptoms

Trigeminal neuralgia symptoms may include one or more of these patterns:

  • Episodes of severe, shooting or jabbing pain that may feel like an electric shock
  • Spontaneous attacks of pain or attacks triggered by things such as touching the face, chewing, speaking or brushing teeth
  • Bouts of pain lasting from a few seconds to several minutes
  • Episodes of several attacks lasting days, weeks, months or longer — some people have periods when they experience no pain
  • Constant aching, burning feeling that may occur before it evolves into the spasm-like pain of trigeminal neuralgia
  • Pain in areas supplied by the trigeminal nerve, including the cheek, jaw, teeth, gums, lips, or less often the eye and forehead
  • Pain affecting one side of the face at a time, though may rarely affect both sides of the face
  • Pain focused in one spot or spread in a wider pattern
  • Attacks that become more frequent and intense over time

When to see a doctor

If you experience facial pain, particularly prolonged or recurring pain or pain unrelieved by over-the-counter pain relievers, see your doctor.

Causes

In trigeminal neuralgia, also called tic douloureux, the trigeminal nerve's function is disrupted. Usually, the problem is contact between a normal blood vessel — in this case, an artery or a vein — and the trigeminal nerve at the base of your brain. This contact puts pressure on the nerve and causes it to malfunction.

Trigeminal neuralgia can occur as a result of aging, or it can be related to multiple sclerosis or a similar disorder that damages the myelin sheath protecting certain nerves. Trigeminal neuralgia can also be caused by a tumor compressing the trigeminal nerve.

Some people may experience trigeminal neuralgia due to a brain lesion or other abnormalities. In other cases, surgical injuries, stroke or facial trauma may be responsible for trigeminal neuralgia.

Triggers

A variety of triggers may set off the pain of trigeminal neuralgia, including:

  • Shaving
  • Touching your face
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Talking
  • Putting on makeup
  • Encountering a breeze
  • Smiling
  • Washing your face
July 26, 2017
References
  1. Bajwa ZH, et al. Trigeminal neuralgia. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 5, 2017.
  2. Trigeminal neuralgia fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Trigeminal-Neuralgia-Fact-Sheet. Accessed June 5, 2017.
  3. Longo DL, et al., eds. Trigeminal neuralgia, Bell's palsy, and other cranial nerve disorders. In: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 19th ed. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Education; 2015. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed June 5, 2017.
  4. Crucci G. Trigeminal neuralgia. Continuum. 2017;23:396.
  5. Riggs EA. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 28, 2017.