What can cause electric shock-like sensations on my face?

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
Discomfort that feels like an "electric shock" suggests a nerve problem. Perhaps the most common example is sciatica. The sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated. This causes a shooting pain down the back of the leg.

The sensation of an electric shock along the side of the face strongly suggests a condition called trigeminal neuralgia. This is nerve pain (neuralgia) from the trigeminal nerve.

Branches of the trigeminal nerve travel from just in front of the ear to the forehead, temple, cheek and chin. When this nerve sends pain signals to the brain, it causes an electrical shock-like sensation along its course. Sometimes, the cause of trigeminal neuralgia can be pinpointed. Recognized causes include:
  • compression by an abnormal blood vessel
  • multiple sclerosis
  • a tumor near the trigeminal nerve (this is rare)
In many cases, no cause can be found. It's as if the nerve is simply "misfiring," sending pain signals for no apparent reason.

Treatment of trigeminal neuralgia includes:
  • pain relievers such as Tylenol or ibuprofen (if symptoms are mild)
  • drugs to treat nerve pain, such as gabapentin (Neurontin) or amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • anti-seizure drugs, including carbamazepine, phenytoin or oxcarbazepine
  • injections of alcohol, novocaine-type drugs, cortisone (or combinations of these)
  • surgery to relieve pressure on the trigeminal nerve or to interrupt its pain signals
While your symptoms suggest trigeminal neuralgia, there are other possible causes of facial pain, such as dental problems and sinus inflammation. So, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Together, you can decide on an evaluation and treatment plan that make sense for you.
Jeffrey A. Brown, MD
If your dentist doesn’t see a cause for this kind of facial pain, consider a nerve-related or “neurologic” cause before having a root canal, tooth extraction, jaw joint or sinus operation. A neurologist may prescribe a medication that slows electrical conduction in the nerves, a form of seizure medicine. It is not a traditional pain medicine, is not addictive and, if it stops the shocks, it suggests that the pain is caused by a problem with the nerve to your face, not your tooth. A neurologist or neurosurgeon uses that medicine to test the cause of your pain. That medicine will save you from losing a tooth or having more dental work that doesn’t end your pain.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.