WESTPORT (Reuters Health) Mar 15 - Many patients with trigeminal neuralgia receive long-term relief from a minimally invasive procedure in which the nerve is damaged with a heat-generating electrode, researchers report.
While drug treatment can often relieve trigeminal neuralgia pain, some patients require surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve from surrounding blood vessels.
In the new study, researchers in Turkey evaluated the effectiveness of radiofrequency trigeminal rhizotomy, a procedure in which a needle is inserted near the nerve and a radiofrequency-producing electrode generates heat to create lesions on the nerve.
Out of 1,600 patients, Dr. Yucel Kanpolat and his colleagues at Ankara University School of Medicine found that although 25% needed at least one repeat procedure, 92% said their pain had faded 5 years after the initial treatment. More than half of the subjects received complete pain relief after one procedure, according to the report in the March issue of Neurosurgery.
The researchers note that they have used this method for more than 25 years. However, the procedure requires considerable experience and judgment in finding the affected branch of the trigeminal nerve and side effects may occur. In this study, some patients had complications such as weakness or paralysis in facial muscles and inflammation in the cornea.
Still, the tactic of using radio waves to destroy part of the nerve "has stood the test of time as an effective treatment for this problem," Dr. Ronald I. Apfelbaum of Salt Lake City, Utah, writes in a commentary published with the report. The complications, he notes, "always will be a down side to the procedure."
2000 Reuters Ltd.