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Facial Pain Can Be Severe, But Uncommon

Posted: January 19, 2010

The various forms of recurrent facial pain can sometimes be debilitating, but are fortunately relatively uncommon, according to a new study.

There are a number of painful syndromes affecting the face and head that can arise on their own or result from an underlying cause such as a tumor, multiple sclerosis or stroke. It has not been clear, however, exactly how common these problems are in the general population. In the new study, researchers used a database with the electronic medical records of about 800,000 patients in the Netherlands to estimate the rates of eight different facial pain syndromes.

Overall, the study found, the conditions were seen at a rate of 38 cases per 100,000 people each year. That is somewhat higher than earlier, hospital-based studies had suggested, but still indicates that facial pain is "relatively rare," the researchers report in the journal Pain.

The two most common disorders were trigeminal neuralgia and cluster headache, which each accounted for about one-third of all cases of facial pain. Trigeminal neuralgia occurs in the trigeminal nerve, which affects perceptions of touch, pain and temperature in the face and jaw. The condition is marked by shock-like or stabbing facial pain that may be triggered by everyday actions such as talking, chewing and brushing one's teeth.

Cluster headaches cause sudden, severe pain, often centered in one eye. Though the headaches tend to be short, they run in cycles, which may cause several headaches in one day or every few days. Both cluster headaches and trigeminal neuralgia can be debilitating and difficult to treat.