UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Neurology

Title: The Painful Twitch - Trigeminal Neuralgia

Keywords: trigeminal neuralgia, TN, tic douloureux, neuropathic facial pain (PubMed Search)

Posted: 8/26/2020 by WanTsu Wendy Chang, MD
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  • Trigeminal neuralgia is diagnosed by:
    • Pain in 1 or more divisions of the trigeminal nerve
    • Paroxysms of pain that are sudden, intense, usually few seconds in duration
    • Pain triggered by innocuous stimuli in the trigeminal nerve territory (91-99% patients)
  • 24-49% of patients experience continuous or long-lasting pain
  • Exam may reveal forceful contraction of the facial muscles during a paroxysm (tic convulsif)
  • Causes include:
    • Intracranial vascular compression of the trigeminal nerve root (most common)
    • Multiple sclerosis, cerebellopontine angle tumor
    • Idiopathic (10% of cases)
  • Carbamazepine and oxcarbazepine are first-line treatments
    • They may be poorly tolerated due to side effects including dizziness, diplopia, ataxia, CNS depression, and hyponatremia
    • They also have limited efficacy on continuous pain
  • Acute exacerbations may warrant admission for hydration, acute pain control, and titration of antiepileptic drugs
    • Botulinum toxin A was recently added as a treatment option

Bottom Line: New onset trigeminal neuralgia needs workup for its etiology. Carbamazepine and oxcarbazepine can be effective for symptom management though continuous or long-lasting pain exacerbations are difficult to treat.


  • Cruccu G, Di Stefano G, Truini A. Trigeminal neuralgia. N Engl J Med. 2020;383(8):754-62.
  • Bendtsen L, Zakrzewska JM, Heinskou TB, et al. Advances in diagnosis, classification, pathophysiology, and management of trigeminal neuralgia. Lancet Neurol. 2020;19(9):784-96.

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