Got Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN)? Here’s Why There’s Hope…

For the last one and a half years, I’ve been taking a mindfulness meditation class to help reduce stress and have recently “graduated” to a master class, which I’m enjoying and find most helpful. Before each bi-monthly session, the psychologist who facilitates the group and is our teacher, asks each person to “check in” with anything they’d like to talk about—ranging from a death in the family, losing their job, and everyone’s favorite: being diagnosed with a chronic condition like trigeminal neuralgia (TN).

One of my classmates, we’ll call her Sara, was diagnosed with TN about a year ago. She had occasional mild facial pain (on a scale of 1-10, it was about a 2) that she and her dentist thought was caused by an abscessed tooth gone bad. After a root canal and crown, the pain went away. But later, when she began to develop mild facial numbness that would come and go (without pain), Sara’s dentist suggested she see a neurologist.

One MRI and several other diagnostic tests and physical exams later, Sarah was diagnosed with TN.

She was kind of baffled at first because she no longer had pain—just the mild and occasional facial numbness along her upper and lower lips. Really, she thought, it’s not a problem. She could still eat, talk, laugh, cry—all of the normal stuff; nothing affected her speech or ability to swallow.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/Gray778_Trigeminal.png TN
The trigeminal nerve affects the face, eyes, nose, lips, teeth, gums, tongue, and scalp.[Source: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) via Wikimedia Commons]
As Sarah was sharing her story in the mindfulness class, I decided to do a little more digging about TN. What I’ve learned is that the vast majority of TN suffers experience severe stabbing pain in their faces and heads that may last for a few seconds to minutes or hours. But not EVERYONE experiences extreme symptoms.

Various combinations of medications, surgery, or even radiation treatments can offer relief. But some people will never require medical intervention—of any kind. So Sarah feels lucky—especially because her condition doesn’t seem to be getting worse. At least she’s pretty sure it isn’t. That’s why she’s still seeing her doctors to closely monitor her condition.

MS or Not MS?

It’s possible Sarah could be in extremely early stages of MS—but for now, the MRIs of her brain and spine, as well as her lumbar puncture results, were all negative: no visible signs of lesions or clinical evidence of MS. Her neurologist thinks she has excellent overall health.

10 Quick Facts About Trigeminal Neuralgia: 

  1. Affects more women than men
  2. May or may not be progressive – it’s possible for symptoms to disappear on their own or lay dormant for years
  3. Can be associated with MS – damage to the trigeminal nerve caused by lesions on its myelin sheath
  4. Can be caused by head or facial injury to the trigeminal nerve
  5. Can be idiopathic, meaning the cause isn’t known
  6. Can be caused by a blood vessel wrapping itself around or rubbing up against the trigeminal nerve(s)
  7. Is widely known to cause intense, stabbing facial and cranial pain
  8. Sometimes only causes mild to moderate facial numbness that comes and goes
  9. It can be effectively managed
  10. Some people fail to respond to surgery after medications fail

Oh, and here’s an article I read about TN, but like most of what you read out there, it didn’t really address Sara’s experience. What do you think?

I’m so glad that in Sara’s case, she’s feeling good and that she continues to have a positive attitude as she also deals with tons of stress in her life as a single parent of two young kids. She’s enjoying life, practicing mindfulness, and has really inspired me to learn more about this condition.


Alisha Stone

Alisha Stone

Alisha Stone has a BA in psychology and is dedicated to improving the lives of others living with chronic illnesses.

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