What are the symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia (TN)?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is characterized by a sudden, severe, electric shock-like, stabbing pain that is typically felt on one side of the jaw or cheek. Pain may occur on both sides of the face, although not at the same time. The attacks of pain, which generally last several seconds and may repeat in quick succession, come and go throughout the day. These episodes can last for days, weeks, or months at a time, and then disappear for months or years. In the days before an episode begins, some patients may experience a tingling or numbing sensation, or a constant and aching pain.

The intense flashes of pain can be triggered by vibration or contact with the cheek (such as when shaving, washing the face, or applying makeup), brushing teeth, eating, drinking, talking, or exposure to wind. The pain may affect a small area of the face or may be spread. The bouts of pain rarely occur at night, when the patient is sleeping.

Patients are considered to have Type 1 TN if more than 50 percent of the pain they experience is sudden, intermittent, sharp and stabbing, or shock-like. These patients may also have some burning sensation. Type 2 TN involves pain that is constant, aching, or burning more than 50 percent of the time.

TN is typified by attacks that stop for a period of time and then come back. The attacks often worsen over time, with fewer and shorter pain-free periods before they recur. The disorder is not fatal, but can be debilitating. Due to the intensity of the pain, some patients may avoid daily activities because they fear an impending attack.

This answer is based on the source infromation from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The main symptom of trigeminal neuralgia is chronic pain occurring in the face. What differs from case to case, or even from day to day in the same patient, is the location, severity, and duration of the pain. It could be momentary or last for a minute. It can happen out of the blue or be triggered by movement or contact. Common triggers include eating, talking, shaving, and touching your face. The pain of trigeminal neuralgia will generally occur in your cheek or jaw and only on one side of your face. In some cases, you may experience numbness as well.

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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.