Trigeminal Neuralgia

Radiosurgery Treatment for Trigeminal Neuralgia

At the Swedish Radiosurgery Center, neurosurgeons use Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery to treat trigeminal neuralgia. Gamma Knife can precisely target the trigeminal nerve where it leaves the brain. This level of accuracy minimizes the risk of radiation affecting the normal nearby brain.

What is trigeminal neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia is a sudden, sharp and very severe pain that is almost always only on one side of the face. The pain occurs in the areas of the face to which the trigeminal nerve supplies normal sensation: the cheeks, jaw, teeth, gums and lips. Sometimes the pain extends to the eye or forehead. Although tumors or blood vessels pressing on the nerve can cause trigeminal neuralgia, in some cases the cause is unknown. While the pain is not always constant and it can improve or get worse for several days or weeks at a time, it can be triggered without warning by such things as touching the face, eating or even teeth brushing.

Why is Gamma Knife a good treatment option for trigeminal neuralgia?

There are many reasons why Gamma Knife may be a good treatment option to consider.

  1. There are several drugs that are used to control trigeminal neuralgia. Each of the drugs, however, has side effects that can be difficult to live with. If you are sensitive to medications or have used these medications and can no longer cope with the side effects, Gamma Knife may be an alternative treatment.
  2. There also are several surgical procedures that are used to control trigeminal neuralgia, including microvascular decompression and percutaneous (through the skin) procedures that are performed with a needle.

    Gamma Knife radiosurgery allows the patient to avoid general anesthesia, an incision in the scalp, and the risk of infection or other surgical complications. Radiosurgery also eliminates the need to shave the head in preparation for surgery, and recovery time is much shorter than the post-surgical hospital stay. Radiosurgery patients usually leave the Radiosurgery Center shortly after treatment and resume their normal daily activities.

  3. While some treatment options are safest for healthy, younger patients, Gamma Knife can be used to treat patients of any age, including the elderly, and to treat patients who may have other chronic medical conditions. Unlike surgery, there is no need to stop anti-coagulation (blood-thinning) medication prior to treatment.

How does Gamma Knife work for trigeminal neuralgia?

The Gamma Knife procedure has several steps that occur on one day, including imaging, treatment planning and treatment. The treatment itself takes about one hour.

A unique treatment plan is created for each patient based on images that are taken just before treatment. The plan is used to program the Gamma Knife to send hundreds of beams of radiation from multiple angles and directions at the same time to the precise place where the trigeminal nerve exits the brain. This area is called the nerve root. It is the location of the cause of trigeminal neuralgia.

Alone each of those beams of radiation is not strong enough to damage normal brain through which it travels on its way to the target. Where the beams meet, however, the combined strength is enough to destroy the abnormal cells that case the pain of trigeminal neuralgia.

Learn more about the step-by-step Gamma Knife process

Is Gamma Knife right for you?

Once you have been diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, you and your doctor will discuss all of your treatment options. In planning your treatment, your doctor will consider your particular situation before making a recommendation.

We invite you to call the Swedish Radiosurgery Center at 206-320-7130 to talk with one of our Gamma Knife specialists if you would like more information or a second opinion.