Trigeminal neuralgia is an excruciating chronic pain condition involving the lower face and jaw, although sometimes it affects the area around the nose and above the eye. 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.
The attacks of pain may be repeated one after the other. They may come and go throughout the day and last for days, weeks, or months at a time. At times, the attacks can disappear for months or years. The disorder is more common in women than in men and rarely affects anyone younger than 50.
The most frequent cause of trigeminal neuralgia is a blood vessel pressing on the nerve near the brain stem. Over time, changes in the blood vessels of the brain can result in blood vessels rubbing against the trigeminal nerve. The constant rubbing with each heartbeat wears away the insulating membrane of the nerve, resulting in nerve irritation.