What is Neuralgia?
Neuralgia is a stabbing, burning, and often severe pain due to an irritated or damaged nerve. Neuralgia can affect any part of the body, causing mild to severe pain. Certain medications and surgical procedures can effectively treat neuralgia.
Severe neuralgia can interfere with a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks and may impact their quality of life.
Types of neuralgia
Healthcare professionals divide neuralgia into categories depending on the areas of the body it affects. The following are some common types of neuralgia:
. Trigeminal neuralgia
Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) involves the trigeminal nerve in the head. It has three branches that send signals from the brain to the face, mouth, teeth, and nose.
TN falls into two subdivisions: type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 TN causes a painful burning or electric shock-like sensation in parts of the face. People with type 1 TN experience irregular episodes that come on suddenly.
The duration of these episodes varies among people but can last up to 2 minutes.
Type 2 TN produces a constant, dull aching sensation in the face.
The exact cause of TN remains unclear. However, pressure from an enlarged blood vessel can irritate or even damage the trigeminal nerve.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) can give rise to TN. MS is a neurological disorder that causes inflammation that damages the myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibers in the central nervous system.
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. Postherpetic neuralgia
Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is a painful condition that affects the nerves in the skin.
PHN is the most common complication of shingles, affecting about 10–13% of people who develop it.
Shingles is a viral infection that causes blisters and a painful skin rash. The varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, remains dormant in the nervous system and reactivates later in life, causing shingles.
When the virus reactivates, it can cause inflammation in the nerve fibers. This inflammation can lead to permanent nerve damage that causes pain, even after the infection subsides.
. Occipital neuralgia
This form of neuralgia affects the occipital nerves, which originate in the neck and send signals to the back of the head.
Occipital neuralgia causes a throbbing or shooting pain that starts near the base of the skull and radiates along the scalp. Occipital neuralgia pain can flow to the back of the eyes.
Occipital neuralgia has numerous potential causes, including:
. Sudden head movements
. Tense neck muscles
. Lesions or tumors in the neck
. Inflamed blood vessels
. Neck injuries
. Peripheral neuralgia
Peripheral neuralgia, or peripheral neuropathy, refers to pain that occurs due to nerve damage in the peripheral nervous system. This includes all nerve fibers outside of the brain and spinal cord.
Peripheral neuralgia can affect a single nerve or entire nerve groups.
Sustaining damage to the peripheral nervous system can affect nerves that control muscle movements, transmit sensory information, and regulate internal organs.
Peripheral neuralgia can cause pain or numbness in the hands, feet, arms, and legs. Other symptoms may include:
. Involuntary muscle twitching or cramping
. Loss of coordination
. Difficulty performing complex motor tasks, such as buttoning a shirt or tying shoelaces.
. Hypersensitivity to touch or temperature
. Excess sweating
. Gastrointestinal problems
. Difficulty eating or swallowing
. Difficulty speaking
. Intercostal neuralgia
Intercostal neuralgia affects the nerves that sit just below the ribs. Doctors call the muscles in this area the intercostal muscles.
Several potential factors may contribute to intercostal neuralgia, such as:
. Injuries or surgical procedures that involve the chest
. Pressure on the nerves
. Shingles or other viral infections
Intercostal neuralgia causes a sharp, burning pain that affects the chest wall, upper abdomen, and upper back. Certain physical movements, such as breathing, coughing, or laughing, can worsen the pain.
Additional symptoms may include:
. Tightness or pressure that wraps around the chest
. Tingling or numbness in the upper chest or upper back
. Muscle twitching
. Loss of appetite
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