Neuralgia, or nerve pain, can be hard to deal with. There are different types of neuralgia that affect different parts of the body. Often the cause is not known. If you have neuralgia, there are treatment options to help relieve the pain.
Neuralgia is a sharp pain that you feel in the skin in one part of your body. It is usually caused by irritation or damage to the nerve that goes to that body part. It is also sometimes called neuropathic pain.
There are different types, including:
- post-herpetic neuralgia – this can happen after you've had shingles (herpes zoster), and affects the same area as the shingles rash
- trigeminal neuralgia – causing pain in the jaw or cheek
- occipital neuralgia – causing pain at the base of your skull that can spread to other parts of your head
- pudendal neuralgia – causing pain in the ‘saddle area' between the legs.
If you have neuralgia, you might find:
- the affected skin feels extremely sensitive
- the pain feels sharp or stabbing, burning or cold, or like electric shocks
- the muscles supplied by the nerve feel weak or paralysed.
The pain might be constant, or it might come and go, but it is always in the same place.
You may also feel tingling, numbness or itching in the area.
What causes neuralgia?
Neuralgia can be caused by:
- infections, such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
- diabetes, multiple sclerosis or stroke
- some medications
- pressure, such as from a tumour
- trauma, including surgery
- vitamin B1 or B12 deficiency
- overuse of alcohol.
Sometimes there is no obvious cause.
There are no specific tests for neuralgia. If you see a doctor, the doctor might:
- talk to you
- examine you
- ask you to complete a questionnaire
- ask you to have investigations such as blood tests, imaging scans and nerve conduction studies.
The treatment for neuralgia depends on whether a cause can be found, the nerve that's affected and how bad the pain is.
There are medicines that help relieve neuralgia, either alone or in combination. These include:
- certain antidepressants, such as amitriptyline
- anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine or gabapentin
- pain medicines, such as morphine
- skin treatments, such as capsaicin cream and lignocaine patches.
Surgery might help in some cases.
But some people find it difficult to find relief.
Last reviewed: December 2015