Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Young man holding his jaw.

Young man holding his jaw.
beginning of content

Trigeminal neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia, also called tic douloureux, is a type of neuralgia, or nerve pain. It is usually felt as a sudden stabbing or shocking pain in the jaw or cheek area on one side of the face. Because of its intensity, it can be challenging to live with. However, there are treatments available that can help.

The trigeminal nerve

Your nervous system involves a complex network of nerves that send impulses from different parts of your body to your brain. Trigeminal neuralgia involves one particular nerve—the trigeminal nerve, which is one of the largest nerves in your head.

Trigeminal neuralgia affect parts of your head such as your face, jaw, gums, eyes and forehead.

Causes of trigeminal neuralgia

Often, trigeminal neuralgia is caused by a blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve. This compression damages the nerve over time, interfering with its normal functioning.

Occasionally, the condition is caused by a stroke, a tumour, or multiple sclerosis. Sometimes a cause just can’t be found.

Symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia

The main symptom of trigeminal neuralgia is a sudden pain, usually felt on one side of your jaw or cheek. The pain can be mild, especially when the condition first develops, but more often it is sharp, shooting, stabbing, burning or electric shock-like.

Attacks tend to come and go, each lasting between about 10 seconds and two minutes. They can be present for a while, then go away for weeks or months, then come back again. People with trigeminal neuralgia might have no pain between attacks, or might have a dull ache in the face and jaw.

The pain can be triggered by talking, chewing, swallowing, eating hot or cold food or drinks, and brushing your teeth. Or it can come on for no obvious reason.

People who have trigeminal neuralgia often feel quite distressed by the pain, and the way it comes and goes. They can feel down, lose weight and have trouble sleeping.

Diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia

To diagnose trigeminal neuralgia, a doctor might:

  • ask you about your symptoms
  • do a physical examination of your head and neck
  • do some simple tests to check your nerves.

The doctor may also suggest you have an MRI scan to help find the cause or show whether surgery is needed.

Treatment of trigeminal neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia can be treated in different ways depending on how bad the pain is and whether the cause is known.

The main treatment is carbamazepine, which belongs to a group of drugs known as anticonvulsants. Other medications, such as oxycarbazine, gabapentin or baclofen, can sometimes be used. Learn more about medicines.

Sometimes surgery is an option. For example:

  • if there is a blood vessel compressing the trigeminal nerve, the vessel may be removed
  • part of the trigeminal nerve can be deliberately damaged or destroyed using electricity, radiation, or injections.

With surgery, there is a risk of temporary or permanent numbness on the face.

Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic and nutritional medicine might help, although there is not much evidence to say whether they do or not. Botox might help, but more research is needed to know for sure.

Last reviewed: August 2016

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 22 results

Brain Foundation | Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal Neuralgia Trigeminal Neuralgia (Face pain) Description Trigeminal neuralgia, also called tic douloureux, is a condition that affects the trigeminal nerve, one of the largest nerves in the head

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Trigeminal neuralgia - myDr.com.au

Trigeminal neuralgia is a disorder that causes episodes of intense facial pain. Find out about the causes, symptoms and treatments.

Read more on myDr website

Trigeminal neuralgia (tic douloureux) | myVMC

Trigeminal neuralgia is pain in the face with no identifiable cause. It is related to the tri germinal nerve, the main sensory nerve of the face.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Teril (Carbamazepine) information | myVMC

Teril is used to treat epilepsy, trigeminal neuralgia and neuropathic pain. It contains carbamazepine, which affects the central nervous system.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Tegretol | myVMC

Tegretol is used to treat epilepsy, bipolar disorder, trigeminal neuralgia and acute mania. It contains carbamazepine.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Carbamazepine-BC | myVMC

Carbamazepine is used to treat neurological disorders including epilepsy, trigeminal neuralgia, and neuropathic pain and mental health disorders.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Neuropathic pain - myDr.com.au

Find out all about neuropathic pain (nerve pain), which is usually described as a shooting, stabbing or burning pain, with myDr.com.au.

Read more on myDr website

Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS) - Targeting Cancer

Learn more about stereostactic radiosurgery (SRS) and its benefits to treat cancer.

Read more on Radiation Oncology Targeting Cancer website

Fampyra Modified release tablets - myDr.com.au

Fampyra Modified release tablets - Consumer Medicines Information leaflets of prescription and over-the-counter medicines

Read more on myDr – Consumer Medicine Information website

Prezcobix Tablets - myDr.com.au

Prezcobix Tablets - Consumer Medicines Information leaflets of prescription and over-the-counter medicines

Read more on myDr – Consumer Medicine Information website

Check your symptoms Find a health service

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback