Trigeminal Neuralgia (Tic Douloureux)

Trigeminal Neuralgia (Tic Douloureux)

National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.


It is possible that the main title of the report Trigeminal Neuralgia (Tic Douloureux) is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.


  • Fothergill Disease
  • Tic Douloureux
  • Trifacial Neuralgia

Disorder Subdivisions

  • None

General Discussion

Trigeminal neuralgia, also known as tic douloureux, is a disorder of the fifth cranial nerve (trigeminal nerve) characterized by attacks of intense, stabbing pain affecting the mouth, cheek, nose, and/or other areas on one side of the face. The exact cause of trigeminal neuralgia is not fully understood.


The most significant symptom of trigeminal neuralgia is recurring episodes of intense, short-lived spasms of pain of the mouth, cheek, nose, and/or other facial areas. The pain is sometimes compared with a series of "electrical shocks" followed by a steady, dull ache. The pain often starts and stops quite rapidly. The pain may be triggered by tactile stimuli (e.g., brushing of the teeth, drinking of hot and/or cold drinks, chewing, etc.) and by extreme heat and/or cold. In most cases, painful symptoms are limited to one side of the face (unilateral). The skin on the affected side may become flushed and the eye may also tear. Individuals with trigeminal neuralgia may also experience excessive salivation. Many individuals have "trigger" points where light touch may produce a pain episode.

There are other disorders associated with facial pain that are similar to trigeminal neuralgia. However, this disorder is distinctive as to the extremely short duration of the pain (usually only a few seconds) and the location of the pain.

The symptoms may go into remission for as long as six months. However, the episodes typically recur.


The exact cause of trigeminal neuralgia is not fully understood. In most cases, the symptoms are due to compression of the trigeminal nerve by a blood vessel (vascular compression) resulting in damage to, or loss of, the myelin sheath from nerve fibers (demyelination). The myelin sheath is the fatty covering of nerve cells and fibers. Some researchers believe that, in some cases, damage to the myelin sheath results in increased electrical activity in the trigeminal nerve, which triggers the pain regions of the brain. In rare cases, compression of the trigeminal nerve is caused by the growth of a benign tumor (e.g., neuroma).

Toxic, nutritional, and infectious factors may also play a possible role in causing the disorder. In some cases, Trigeminal neuralgia may occur secondary to another disorder such as multiple sclerosis.

Many different factors can trigger a painful episode in individuals with trigeminal neuralgia including brushing ones teeth or putting on makeup.

In rare cases, trigeminal neuralgia has run in families. In some familial cases, researches believe the disorder is inherited as an autosomal dominant trait.

Affected Populations

Trigeminal neuralgia affects females more often than males by a ration of 3:2. Although the exact incidence is unknown, approximately 10,000-15,000 new cases occur each year in the United States. The disorder most frequently affects people after the age of 60 years. However, cases have been reported in children and young adults.

Standard Therapies

The outlook of individuals with trigeminal neuralgia is generally favorable, with both medical and surgical means of treatment. The anti-seizure (anticonvulsant) drug carbamazine (Tegretol) is often an effective treatment for the disorder. Administration of this drug should be accompanied by a monitoring of liver and hemapoietic (relating to formation of blood cells) functions. In some affected individuals, phenytoin (Dilantin) has been found to be an effective treatment.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the drug carbamazepine extended release capsules (Carbatrol) has been approved for the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia. Carbatrol is manufactured by Shire Pharmaceuticals.

Additionally, Tegnetol X-R (carbamazepine extended release tablets) produced by Novartis may be used.

In terms of surgical treatments, the most widely used is the Jannetta procedure, which involves the removal of vascular structures pressing on the trigeminal ganglion (microvascular decompression). In another possible treatment, a percutaneous needle makes electrolytic lesions of the trigeminal ganglion. Radiofrequency rhizotomy, a procedure in which a needle is inserted into the ganglion of the nerve through the cheek and the nerved is burned. In a procedure called percutaneous glycerol rhizotomy, a needle is inserted through the cheek and a chemical is placed around the nerve.

In cases of pain that do not respond to therapy (intractable pain), the 5th nerve fibers near the trigeminal ganglion may be surgically sectioned. Other treatment is symptomatic and supportive.

Investigational Therapies

Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at All studies receiving U.S. government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government web site.

For information about clinical trials being conducted at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:

Tollfree: (800) 411-1222

TTY: (866) 411-1010


For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, contact:



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Trigeminal Neuralgia: Treatment by Microvascular Decompression: PJ Jannetta; In: Neurosurgery; Wilkins et al., eds.: McGraw-Hill 1984.


Sandoval-Balanzario MA, et al. Surgical treatment for trigeminal neuralgia. Gac Med Mex. 2004;140:405-10.

Cheuk AV, et al. Gamma knife surgery for trigeminal neuralgia: outcome, imanging, and brainstem correlates. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2004;60:537-64.

Rozen TD, Trigeminal neuralgia and glossopharyngeal neuralgia. Neurol Clin. 2004;22:1850-206.

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Rozen TD. Antiepileptic drugs in the management of cluster headache and trigeminal neuralgia. Headache. 2001;41:25-33.

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Young RF, et al. Gamma knife radiosurgery for treatment of trigeminal neuralgia. Idiopathic and tumor related. Neurology. 1997;48:608-14.

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Lunardi G, et al. Clinical effectiveness of lamotrigine and plasma levels in essential and symptomatic trigeminal neuralgia. Neurology. 1997 1997;48:1714-17.

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McKusick VA, ed. Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM). Baltimore. MD: The Johns Hopkins University; Entry No:190400; Last Update:6/7/95.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stoke. Trigeminal Neuralgia Information Page. May 5, 2001. Available at:


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