Symptoms of Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is not a congenital condition, but rather develops later in life – often after age 50. Initial symptoms may be mild twinges of pain in the face or jaw, which can easily be confused with other conditions, including migraine headache, dental problems, or TMJ. As the condition progresses, however, trigeminal neuralgia may produce many different symptoms including:

  • Excruciating, stabbing pain of the face or jaw, which can feel like an electrical shock.
  • Numbness, tingling, or a burning sensation on one side of the face.
  • Facial pain accompanied by a muscle spasm, or “tic.”
  • Face or jaw pain that is triggered by simple, everyday acts such as shaving, applying make-up, brushing teeth, chewing, talking, and touching the face.
  • Pain that is isolated to one side of the face, including the jaw, cheek, gums, mouth, and sometimes the forehead and eye.
  • Pain that is concentrated in one small area — or alternatively, spread over a large area of the face.
  • Attacks of pain that can last for a few seconds up to several minutes.
  • Repeated episodes that can last for days, weeks, months, or longer.
  • Episodes that increase in intensity, duration, and frequency.

Some people with trigeminal neuralgia experience spontaneous remission, during which symptoms disappear completely. When the condition recurs, however, the symptoms are often more severe and more frequent than before.

Since trigeminal neuralgia often starts out with mild pain, patients don’t always seek medical treatment right away — and those that do may be misdiagnosed. As the symptoms become more pronounced, the pain can become excruciating. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis as early in the condition’s progression in order to develop an effective treatment plan (see Diagnosing and Treating Trigeminal Neuralgia).

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Reviewed by: Jared Knopman, M.D.
Last reviewed/last updated: October 2020

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