Gamma Knife® Surgery Treatment of Trigeminal Neuralgia

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Treating Trigeminal Neuralgia with Gamma Knife®

If you have trigeminal neuralgia, Gamma Knife radiosurgery can give you long-lasting relief from pain. For some patients, the results are immediate. Dr. Ronald E. Warnick of Mercy Health describes the benefits of this safe, painless treatment.

Trigeminal neuralgia is an excruciating pain typically involving the lower face and jaw. This intense, stabbing, electric shock-like pain is caused by irritation of the trigeminal nerve, which sends branches to the forehead, cheek and lower jaw. It usually is limited to one side of the face.

Approximately 150,000 people are diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia every year, most commonly occurring in women over the age of 50. Most patients report that their pain begins spontaneously and seemingly out of nowhere. Pain is often first experienced along the upper or lower jaw, so many patients assume that it is dental-related. When a dental procedure, such as a root canal, brings no relief and the pain persists, patients realize it is not a dental issue.

Trigeminal neuralgia tends to run in cycles. Patients often suffer long stretches of frequent attacks followed by weeks, months or even years of little or no pain. The usual pattern, however, is for the attacks to intensify over time with shorter pain-free periods. Some patients suffer less than one attack a day, while others experience a dozen or more every hour. The pain typically begins with a sensation of electrical shocks that culminates in an excruciating stabbing pain within less than 20 seconds. The pain often leaves patients with uncontrollable facial twitching, which is why the disorder is also known as tic douloureux.

Trigeminal neuralgia cannot always be cured, but treatments are available to help alleviate the pain, including anticonvulsive medications and muscle relaxants. If medications have proven ineffective, or the patient cannot tolerate their side effects, surgical procedures, such as Gamma Knife®, may help control the pain.

The Gamma Knife® delivers a single highly concentrated dose of ionizing radiation to a small, precise target at the trigeminal nerve root. This treatment is noninvasive and avoids many of the risks and complications of open surgery and other treatments. Over a period of time and as a result of radiation exposure, the slow formation of a lesion in the nerve interrupts transmission of pain signals to the brain.

With Gamma Knife® surgery, a patient can often:

  • Be treated in one session
  • Experience less damage to healthy cells and tissue
  • Enjoy faster recovery times
  • Gain better quality of life