What Causes Inflammation Of The Trigeminal Nerve?

Neuralgia of the trigeminal nerve, which is manifested by a repetitive pain on one side of the face, is the result of an injury to one or all three branches of the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve is responsible for the transport of the sensations or nerve signals from the face to the brain. It can be referred to as an inflammation of the trigeminal nerve.1

Trigeminal neuralgia is a nervous disorder of the face. It causes abrupt and painful facial pain, especially in the lower face and jaw along with the areas around the lips, eyes, ears, and nose. It is considered one of the most painful conditions.2

Neuralgia refers to intense pain along a nerve due to nerve irritation or damage. Trigeminal neuralgia affects the trigeminal nerve, one of the most extensive nerves present in your head. In the USA alone, over 14,000 individuals develop this disease every year.3

What Causes Trigeminal Nerve Inflammation?

Trigeminal neuralgia is usually caused by the pressure of a blood vessel on a nerve in the skull area. More rarely, multiple sclerosis or the presence of a tumor may be responsible for trigeminal neuralgia. In many cases, however, there is no apparent cause.3

The main issue is the blood vessels pressing on the root of the trigeminal nerve, which may be because of various reasons. This makes the nerve transmit pain signals that are experienced as throbbing pains. Tumor or multiple sclerosis also produces the same pressure on the trigeminal nerve, resulting in similar pain.3

The cause of trigeminal nerve inflammation at a glance:4

  • The pressure of blood vessels on the trigeminal nerve
  • Multiple sclerosis that results from demyelination of the nerve. Trigeminal neuralgia usually appears in the advanced stages of multiple sclerosis.
  • A tumor presses on the trigeminal nerve. This is a rare scenario.
  • Physical damage to the trigeminal nerve may also cause the disorder. This may happen due to injury, dental issues or surgical intervention for different reasons or because of infection
  • Presence of family history where the formation of blood vessels pressing nerves is hereditary
  • Usually, the pain is of two types: nociceptive and non-nociceptive. Trigeminal neuralgia is a non-nociceptive pain.

Nociceptive pain occurs when an external stimulus triggers specific receptors, causing the pain in the nervous system. Pain caused by burn is an example of this type of pain. Non-nociceptive pain is caused by nerve damage or irritation or nervous system failure. The nerves themselves send pain signals to the brain.

Neuralgia is a type of non-nociceptive pain, and the trigeminal neuralgia is a non-nociceptive pain resulted from the trigeminal nerve or the 5th cranial nerve of the face.

People with trigeminal neuralgia describe it as short-term, but intense pain or throbbing pain. It may seem that the pain is spreading along the affected nerve. Although the pain is brief, trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic disease that worsens over time. The pain usually lasts for a few minutes and on one side of the face.
Trigeminal neuralgia is twice more common in women than in men. It affects primarily individuals over the age of 50.

Different Pain Zones In Trigeminal Neuralgia

There are three distinct pain zones in trigeminal neuralgia based on the three branches of the trigeminal nerve. These are:

  • The ophthalmic zone that affects the eyes, nose, and forehead
  • Maxilla that affects the upper teeth, the lip, the gum, the cheek, the side of the nose and the lower eyelid
  • Mandibular that affects the lower lip, the gum, the lower teeth, and the jaw3
  • Sometimes, trigeminal neuralgia affects more than one branch at a time.

Conclusion

Trigeminal nerve inflammation can happen due to various reasons. The resulting condition is extremely painful with short bouts of intense pain in different parts of your face (usually one side of the face) depending on the nerve affected. In most cases, the nerve is compressed by the nearby blood vessels. However, in rare cases the presence of a tumor or multiple sclerosis may be responsible for the disorder.

References:  

  1. Maarbjerg S, Di Stefano G, Bendtsen L, Cruccu G. Trigeminal neuralgia–diagnosis and treatment. Cephalalgia. 2017;37(7):648-657.
  2. Bendtsen L, Zakrzewska JM, Abbott J, et al. European Academy of Neurology guideline on trigeminal neuralgia. European journal of neurology. 2019;26(6):831-849.
  3. Brandel MG, Porras K, Steinberg JA, et al. Classification Systems for Trigeminal Neuralgia and Quantification of Facial Pain. Effective Techniques for Managing Trigeminal Neuralgia: IGI Global; 2018:32-44.
  4. Burchiel KJ. Trigeminal neuralgia: new evidence for origins and surgical treatment. Neurosurgery. 2016;63(CN_suppl_1):52-55.

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