Trigeminal Neuralgia in Emergency Medicine Clinical Presentation

Updated: Oct 22, 2019
  • Author: Mityanand Ramnarine, MD, FACEP; Chief Editor: Gil Z Shlamovitz, MD, FACEP  more...
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History is the most important factor in the diagnosis of typical or classical trigeminal neuralgia (TN). Symptomatic trigeminal neuralgia secondary to intracranial processes may have a different history.

Nature of pain

Pain is brief and paroxysmal, but it may occur in volleys of multiple attacks.

Pain is stabbing or shock-like and is typically severe.

Distribution of pain

One or more branches of the trigeminal nerve (usually maxillary or mandibular in unilateral distribution) are involved.

Pain is unilateral in classical trigeminal neuralgia. Bilateral pain suggests symptomatic trigeminal neuralgia. [3]

Duration of pain is typically from a few seconds to 1–2 minutes. Pain may occur several times a day; patients typically experience no pain between episodes.

Trigger points

Various triggers may commonly precipitate a pain attack. Light touch or vibration or even talking can provoke attacks.

Activities such as shaving, face washing, or chewing often trigger an episode.

Stimuli as mild as a light breeze may provoke pain in some patients.

Pain provokes brief muscle spasm of the facial muscles, thus producing the tic.

There is a short refractory period after an attack where you cannot evoke a new attack with repeated stimulation to the same area. [1]



Physical examination findings should show no abnormality unless there is a prior or concommitant neurologic process. A normal neurologic examination is part of the definition of typical or classic trigeminal neuralgia (TN). Perform a careful examination of the cranial nerves, including the corneal reflex.

  • Be alert to the presence of any abnormality on physical examination. Abnormality suggests that the pain syndrome is secondary to another process.

  • Trigeminal sensory deficits suggest symptomatic trigeminal neuralgia.

  • Remember that patients report pain following stimulation of a trigger point; thus, some patients may limit their examination for fear of stimulating these points.



Most patients' conditions are idiopathic, but compression of the trigeminal roots by tumors or vascular anomalies may cause similar pain (see Pathophysiology). The most common cause of nerve compression is from an artery pulsating against the nerve.

There are documented cases of development of TN following ophthalmic surgery in rare cases. [7]