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Balloon compression is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat issues trigeminal neuralgia. It is based on other traditional treatments that provide pain relief by massaging or partially injuring the trigeminal nerve in order to prevent the nerve from transmitting pain signals to the brain.
Balloon compression is performed under general anesthesia. A small puncture will be made around the corner of the mouth to allow access to the trigeminal nerve. A catheter will then be placed in the area. A small balloon will be inserted through the catheter and placed near the trigeminal ganglion. The balloon will be temporarily inflated for about one minute. This compresses and slightly injures the trigeminal ganglion which will disable the transmission of pain signals to the brain.
Balloon compression is an alternative to other procedures for trigeminal neuralgia, including microvascular decompression and stereotactic radiosurgery. Compared the microvascular decompression, balloon compression is nearly as effective but is associated with a higher rate of facial numbness and recurrence in the first 2 years. Compared to radiosurgery, balloon compression is more effective and works immediately, but radiosurgery offers the advantage of not requiring anesthesia or an incision.
Balloon compression is successful in nearly 90% of patients with trigeminal neuralgia. Up to 20% to 30% of patients experience a recurrence in pain after a period of about two years. If and when pain recurs, the treatment can be repeated.
The most important side effect of treatment is high likelihood of having some numbness in the face. However, most patients state that numbness is much more preferable to the pain they experienced prior to the procedure.
There are some risks associated with balloon compression. However, the likelihood of experiencing a complication as a result of the procedure are extremely low. The risks associated with balloon compression include:
- Infection (<1%)
- Facial sensory changes (~50%)
- Anesthesia dolorosa (painful numbness in the face, 1%)
- Injury to blood vessels (<1%)
- Stroke (<1%)