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Neuralgia

Neuralgia

Definition

Neuralgia describes a variety of rare and painful conditions in which shooting, stabbing, burning, pain; electric-like shocks; or tingling, pins and needles, or numbness occur along the course of a nerve, usually in the head or neck.

Description

Neuralgia attacks tend to by cyclic, often coming and going without warning. They can last for minutes, hours, days, or longer, depending on the patient, and range from mild to debilitating. Often, no physical cause can be found, although some forms of neuralgia may be triggered when nerves are compressed by injuries, arteries, tumors, or, in rare cases, as the result of nerve damage from multiple sclerosis . Neuralgia is an uncommon condition, with trigeminal neuralgia occuring most often. Other types are occipital neuralgia, glossopharyngeal neuralgia, and postherpetic neuralgia. Most neuralgia patients are 50 or older, although younger patients can be affected as well.

Causes & symptoms

Most neuralgias appear suddenly, with no apparent physical basis for the pain, which can be severe. Other neuralgias may follow an injury, with pain, burning, tingling, or numbness in whatever part of the body the affected nerve supplies.

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) also called tic douloureux, from the French for "painful spasm," is a disorder of the fifth cranial nerve, whose three branches supply the face. (There are 12 pairs of cranial nerves that supply the human head.) Most TN patients are 50 or older, with more women affected than men. Early attacks are shortone to two minutes longbut excruciating, with stabbing, shooting, pain on one side of the face. The location depends on which branch of the nerve is affected. At first, weeks or months separate incidents, but as the condition progresses the time between attacks shortens. Eventually, the area becomes hypersensitive, and painful bouts can even be triggered by eating, drinking, talking, cold, or even touching the face.

Glossopharyngeal is a relatively rare neuralgia, marked by recurring attacks of severe pain that occur for no apparent reason in the throat, ears, and neck. Glossopharyngeal neuralgia patients also tend to be middle-aged, but are more often male than female. The attacks can occur without warning, but, like other facial neuralgias, can also be triggered by sneezing , swallowing, talking, yawning, or clearing the throat.

Occipital neuralgia is caused by pain from one of the two occipital nerves that supply the back of the head. Unlike TN or glossopharyngeal neuralgia, occipital neuralgia may occur in conjunction with muscle tension or migraine headaches, with the spasms of nerve pain on top of nearly continual aching.

Although most neuralgias have no known cause, one type, postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is only seen following an outbreak of shingles , a painful, blistering rash caused by the Herpes zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox. Herpes zoster lives in nerve tissue, and never goes away, even after the initial outbreak of

chicken pox has disappeared. Older people, especially those with weak immune systems, can suffer a relapse, with the rash appearing along the course of the nerve that is affected. This produces the searing pain of neuralgia, which can be made even worse by the touch of clothing, bedclothes, or another person. PHN and TN are the most common types of neuralgia.

Diagnosis

Physicians begin with a thorough examination, and often include a CT scan or MRI. These will sometimes uncover an artery or tumor that is compressing the nerve and creating the symptoms, but very often no obvious medical problem is found. In addition, trigeminal neuralgia can be identified by several distinctive traits, many of which apply to other neuralgias as well:

  • The patient has attacks of pain in the face that last less than two minutes.
  • The pain follows the path of the trigeminal (or another) nerve.
  • The pain is described as sudden, sharp, stabbing or burning, and severe.
  • The pain may be triggered by certain activities.
  • There are no symptoms between attacks.
  • In many patients, TN can be positively diagnosed if the drug carbamazepine (Tegretol) diminishes the pain of an attack.

Glossopharyngeal neuralgia is identified in the same way as TN, that is, the patient complains of stabbing, spasmodic pain that follows the Glossopharyngeal nerve. A positive diagnosis is usually achieved if the pain stops when the nerve is blocked with a local anesthesia.

Occipital neuralgia is caused by pain from one of the two occipital nerves that supply the back of the head. Unlike TN or glossopharyngeal neuralgia, occipital neuralgia may occur in conjunction with muscle tension or migraine headaches, with the spasms of nerve pain on top of nearly continual aching. X rays and CT scans can help indicate if the nerve is compressed; numbing the nerve with anesthetics can pinpoint the cause.

Treatment

Trigeminal neuralgia was identified almost 2,000 years ago. Early treatments, like most medicine in those days, were mostly topical (applied to the skin) and ineffective. Today, the most effective treatments for neuralgia are allopathic, but alternative therapies may help support the patient's general well being and improve overall health.

Nutritional therapy

B-complex vitamins, taken orally or given by intra-muscular injection, are important for a healthy nervous system, and may supplement medical treatment. A whole foods diet with adequate protein, carbohydrates, and fats that also includes yeast, liver, wheat germ , and foods that are high in B vitamins is important. Essential fatty acids , such as flax or fish oil , may also help reduce inflammation.

Herbal therapy

Capsaicin cream, made from capsicum, a substance found in hot peppers, has sometimes been helpful in desensitizing painful areas in postherpetic neuralgia. Capsaicin may diminish the amount of "substance P," a chemical used by nerves to send pain signals to the brain. St. John's wort , an antidepressant, may help the other forms of neuralgia, which are often treated allopathically with tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)

Acupuncture

Some patients found that acupuncture was helpful in treating their neuralgia pain, especially that of postherpetic neuralgia. Others were unable to obtain relief from the procedure.

Chiropractic

Chiropractors can manipulate the jawbone, neck or spine to treat neuralgia pain. Like most alternative treatments for neuralgia, this is effective for some patients and not for others.

Homeopathy

Homeopathic treatment can also be tried. An experienced homeopathic practitioner will prescribe remedies to bolster the paitient's general health, tailoring remedies to the patient's overall personality profile as well as specific symptoms.

Other alternative therapies

The pain of neuralgia may also be relieved by hydrotherapy (hot shower or bath), deep massage, reflexology (massaging reflex points in the feet relating affected painful areas in the body) or yoga exercises. In addition, guided imagery, biofeedback therapy, and hypnosis may be beneficial. Patients should also consider t'ai chi, qigong , and other movement therapy .

Patients may also be helped by transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), in which a weak electrical current applied to the skin interferes with the nerve's ability to send pain signals to the brain. Although somewhat controversial, initial results, especially for postherpetic neuralgia, are promising.

Allopathic treatment

Once a diagnosis of neuralgia has been established, physicians prescribe drugs to alleviate the pain. The anti-convulsant drug carbamazepine (Tegretol) is often an effective treatment for TN, relieving or reducing the pain within a day or two. Unfortunately, it can also cause dizziness , drowsiness, nausea , and double vision, as well as other side effects. If Tegretol is not well tolerated, doctors can try another anitconvulsant, like gabapentin (Neurontin), antispasmodics like baclofen (Lioresal), or anti-anxiety drugs like clonazepam (Klonopin). These drugs are also frequently prescribed for other forms of neuralgia as well.

Injecting local anesthetics into the nerve can stop the pain for a few hours, and for some patients this is effective for a much longer time. Lidocaine cream may be somewhat helpful in treating PHN, probably by temporarily desensitizing nerves just under the skin. Lido-caine may also help atypical forms of TN. Alcohol and glycerin injections that destroy part of the nerve (and thereby its ability to transmit pain) may also be an option.

One particularly unpleasant, but evidently successful, method of treating neuralgia seems to be desensitization. This means that if a patient is bothered by the touch of clothing on the skin, the therapist may rub a towel briskly over the area for a few minutes. If the patient has trouble tolerating heat or cold, warm or cold water may be applied. Although initially quite painful, this method gradually diminishes the frequency and intensity of the patient's pain, apparently by overwhelming (and eventually reducing) the nerve's ability to send messages to the brain.

For PHN, the best treatment seems to be prevention. People with shingles should see a doctor as soon as the rash develops so they can receive treatment to ease the severity of the outbreak and minimize the risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia. It is not clear, however, whether treatment can prevent subsequent neuralgia. If PHN does develop, TCAsespecially amitriptylineare often helpful. It's important to stress , though, that early attention to either a shingles outbreak or PHN episode will reduce the incidence and severity of future attacks. Some patients receive complete pain relief after treatment. Others are able only to reduce the pain (to greater or lesser degrees), while for a very few treatment is completely ineffective. For these patients PHN becomes a lifelong, chronic condition; most cases, however, moderate on their own and disappear within five years. In 2002, clinical trials showed that gabapentin (Neurontin) was effective in treating patients with PHN with relatively low adverse effects.

As a last resort, surgery may bring relief for those neuralgia patients not helped by pharmaceuticals. Most procedures try to reduce the nerve's ability to send pain signals to the brain. One of the most promising is dorsal root entry zone (DREZ) lesioning, which uses radio frequency to disrupt the nerves that are causing pain. Some studies showed that as many as 80% of DREZ patients were helped.

Expected results

Only a few neuralgia patients will not be helped by some combination of drugs and surgery. PHN, in particular, tends to fade away on its own, and only 23% of patients have pain that lasts a year or longer. For those unfortunate few, however, PHN can become a lifelong, debilitating condition.

Resources

BOOKS

Althoff, Susanne, Patricia N. Williams, Dianne Molvig, and Larry Schuster. A Guide to Alternative Medicine. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, Ltd., 1997.

Gottlieb, Bill, ed. "Sciatica." In New Choices in Natural Healing: Over 1,800 of the Best Self-Help Remedies from the World of Alternative Medicine. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1995.

Loeser, J. "Cranial Neuralgias." In The Management of Pain. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1990.

"Neuralgia." In The Hamlyn Encyclopedia of Complementary Medicine. Great Britain: Reed International Books Limited, 1996.

PERIODICALS

Fields, H. "Treatment of Trigeminal Neuralgia." The New England Journal of Medicine 334 (April 1996): 11251126.

"Neurontin." Formulary 334 (July 2002): 335.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Chronic Pain Association. PO Box 850, Rocklin, CA 95677. (916) 632-0922.

National Chronic Pain Outreach. PO Box 274, Millboro, VA 24460. (540) 997-5004.

Trigeminal Neuralgia/Tic Douloureux Association. PO Box 340, Barnegat Light, NJ 08006. (609) 361-1014.

Amy Loerch Strumolo

Teresa G. Odle

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Strumolo, Amy; Odle, Teresa. "Neuralgia." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Strumolo, Amy; Odle, Teresa. "Neuralgia." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435100562.html

Strumolo, Amy; Odle, Teresa. "Neuralgia." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. 2005. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435100562.html

Neuralgia

Neuralgia

Definition

Neuralgia is defined as an intense burning or stabbing pain caused by irritation of or damage to a nerve. The pain is usually brief but may be severe. It often feels as if it is shooting along the course of the affected nerve.

Description

Different types of neuralgia occur depending on the reason the nerve has been irritated. Neuralgia can be triggered by a variety of causes, including tooth decay, eye strain, or shingles (an infection caused by the herpes zoster virus). Pain is usually felt in the part of the body that is supplied by the irritated nerve.

Causes and symptoms

Neuralgia is caused by irritation or nerve damage from systemic disease, inflammation, infection, and compression or physical irritation of a nerve. The location of the pain depends on the underlying condition that is irritating the nerve or the location of the particular nerve that is being irritated.

Neuralgia can result from tooth decay, poor diet, eye strain, nose infections, or exposure to damp and cold. Postherpetic neuralgia is an intense debilitating pain felt at the site of a previous attack of shingles. Trigeminal neuralgia (also called tic douloureux, the most common type of neuralgia), causes a brief, searing pain along the trigeminal nerve, which supplies sensation to the face. The facial pain of migraine neuralgia lasts between 30 minutes and an hour and occurs at the same time on successive days. The cause is not known.

Glossopharyngeal neuralgia is an intense pain felt at the back of the tongue, in the throat, and in the earall areas served by the glossopharyngeal nerve. The pain may occur spontaneously, or it can be triggered by talking, eating, or swallowing (especially cold foods such as ice cream). Its cause is not known.

Occipital neuralgia is caused by a pinched occipital nerve. There are two occipital nerves, each located at the back of the neck, each supplying feeling to the skin over half of the back of the head. These nerves can be pinched due to factors ranging from arthritis to injury, but the result is the same: numbness, pain, or tingling over half the base of the skull.

Diagnosis

Neuralgia is a symptom of an underlying disorder; its diagnosis depends on finding the cause of the condition creating the pain.

To diagnose occipital neuralgia, a doctor can inject a small amount of anesthetic into the region of the occipital nerve. If the pain temporarily disappears, and there are no other physical reasons for the pain, the doctor may recommend surgery to deal with the pinched nerve.

Treatment

Glossopharyngeal, trigeminal, and postherpetic neuralgias sometimes respond to anticonvulsant drugs, such as carbamazepine or phenytoin, or to painkillers, such as acetaminophen. Trigeminal neuralgia may also be relieved by surgery in which the nerve is cut or decompressed. In some cases, compression neuralgia (including occipital neuralgia) can be relieved by surgery.

People with shingles should see a doctor within three days of developing the rash, since aggressive treatment of the blisters that appear with the rash can ease the severity of the infection and minimize the risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia. However, it is not clear whether the treatment can prevent postherpetic neuralgia.

If postherpetic neuralgia develops, a variety of treatments can be tried, since their effectiveness varies from person-to-person.

  • antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • anticonvulsants (phenytoin, valproate, or carbamazepine)
  • capsaicin (Xostrix), the only medication approved by the FDA for treatment of postherpetic neuralgia
  • topical painkillers
  • desensitization
  • TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation )
  • dorsal root zone (DREZ) surgery (a treatment of last resort)

Alternative treatment

B-complex vitamins, primarily given by intramuscular injection, can be an effective treatment. A whole foods diet with adequate protein, carbohydrates, and fats that also includes yeast, liver, wheat germ, and foods that are high in B vitamins may be helpful. Acupuncture is a very effective treatment, especially for postherpetic neuralgia. Homeopathic treatment can also be very effective when the correct remedy is used. Some botanical medicines may also be useful. For example, black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa ) appears to have anti-inflammatory properties based on recent research.

Prognosis

The effectiveness of the treatment depends on the cause of the neuralgia, but many cases respond to pain relief.

Trigeminal neuralgia tends to come and go, but successive attacks may be disabling. Although neuralgia is not fatal, the patient's fear of being in pain can seriously interfere with daily life.

Some people with postherpetic neuralgia respond completely to treatment. Most people, however, experience some pain after treatment, and a few receive no relief at all. Some people live with this type of neuralgia for the rest of their lives, but for most, the condition gradually fades away within five years.

KEY TERMS

Desensitization A technique of pain reduction in which the painful area is stimulated with whatever is causing the pain.

Dorsal root entry zone (DREZ) A type of nerve surgery for postherpetic neuralgia that is occasionally used when the patient can get no other pain relief. The surgery destroys the area where damaged nerves join the central nervous system, thereby interfering with inappropriate pain messages from nerves to the brain.

Glossopharyngeal neuralgia Sharp recurrent pain deep in the throat that extends to the area around the tonsils and possibly the ear. It is triggered by swallowing or chewing.

Migraine neuralgia A variant of migraine pain, also called cluster headache, in which severe attacks of pain affect the eye and forehead on one side of the face.

Occipital neuralgia Pain on one side of the back of the head caused by entrapment or pinching of an occipital nerve.

Postherpetic neuralgia Persistent pain that occurs as a complication of a herpes zoster infection. Although the pain can be treated, the response is variable.

Shingles A painful rash with blisters that appears along the course of a nerve. It is caused by infection with herpes zoster virus.

TENS The abbreviation for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, a technique used to control chronic pain. Electrodes placed over the painful area deliver a mild electrical impulse to nearby nerve pathways, thereby easing pain.

Trigeminal neuralgia Brief episodes of severe shooting pain on one side of the face caused by inflammation of the root of the trigeminal nerve. Also referred to as tic douloureux.

Resources

PERIODICALS

Fields, H. "Treatment of Trigeminal Neuralgia." The New England Journal of Medicine 334 (April 1996): 1125-1126.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Chronic Pain Association. P.O. Box 850, Rocklin, CA 95677-0850. (916) 632-0922. http://members.tripod.com/widdy/ACPA.html.

National Chronic Pain Outreach Association. P.O. Box 274, Millboro, VA 24460. (540) 997-5004.

Trigeminal Neuralgia/Tic Douloureux Association. P.O. Box 340, Barnegat Light, NJ 08006. (609) 361-1014.

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Turkington, Carol. "Neuralgia." Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed.. 2006. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3451601130.html

neuralgia

neuralgia (nŏŏrăl´jə, nyŏŏ–), acute paroxysmal pain along a peripheral sensory nerve. Unlike neuritis, there is no inflammation or degeneration of nerve tissue. Neuralgia occurs commonly in the area of the facial, or trigeminal, nerve and brings attacks of excruciating pain at varying intervals. Often no cause can be found for trigeminal neuralgia, and in severe cases deadening of the nerve with novocaine or alcohol, or even surgical interruption of the nerve, is necessary to bring relief. Neuralgia can be caused by such disturbances as diabetes, infections, diseases of the nervous system, anemia, and extreme cold. The pain may occur for many months after an attack of shingles (see herpes zoster), and it is one of the symptoms of syphilitic involvement of the central nervous system. In many cases, pain can be relieved by hot applications, drugs, and various kinds of physiotherapy.

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neuralgia

neuralgia (newr-al-jă) n. a severe burning or stabbing pain often following the course of a nerve. postherpetic n. intense debilitating pain felt at the site of a previous attack of shingles. trigeminal n. (tic douloureux) neuralgia in which brief paroxysms of searing pain are felt in the distribution of one or more branches of the trigeminal nerve in the face.

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"neuralgia." A Dictionary of Nursing. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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neuralgia

neuralgia Intense pain from a damaged nerve, possibly tracking along its course. Forms include trigeminal neuralgia, which features attacks of stabbing pain in the mouth area, and post-herpetic neuralgia following an attack of shingles.

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"neuralgia." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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neuralgia

neu·ral·gia / n(y)oŏˈraljə/ • n. intense, typically intermittent pain along the course of a nerve, esp. in the head or face. DERIVATIVES: neu·ral·gic / -jik/ adj.

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"neuralgia." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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neuralgia

neuralgia affection of a nerve causing pain. XIX. f. Gr. neûron NERVE + álgos pain.

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T. F. HOAD. "neuralgia." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

T. F. HOAD. "neuralgia." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O27-neuralgia.html

T. F. HOAD. "neuralgia." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. 1996. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O27-neuralgia.html

neuralgia

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