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Radiofrequency ablation is a surgical procedure that can be used to treat chronic pain conditions and is a common option for treating conditions like trigeminal neuralgia. Ablation is the medical term for the removal of tissue. In the case of radiofrequency ablation, the heat generated by radiofrequency energy is used to inure the targeted tissue in a controlled manner.
In the case of trigeminal neuralgia, the procedure works by targeting the trigeminal ganglion or roots that contain nerve cells that send pain signal to the brain. The nerves are exposed to high-frequency heat that can be used to precisely disable a portion of the targeted tissue. This numbs a portion of the face and effectively reduces nerve pain in the area.
Am I a Good Candidate?
In most cases, issues like trigeminal neuralgia are initially treated with medication. While medication can provide relief, it is not an effective option for all individuals and may cause unwanted side effects. Surgical treatment for trigeminal neuralgia include microvascular decompression, balloon compression, radiofrequency ablation, and stereotactic radiosurgery.
Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that is ideal for patients with pain in a localized region of the face. It is not a useful or safe technique for patients that have pain localized to the eye or forehead. It is an attractive treatment options for patients who require immediate pain relief but who cannot tolerate the more invasive but more definitive microvascular decompression surgery.
Sedation is used during radiofrequency ablation. A needle will be carefully inserted around the corner of the mouth until it reaches the trigeminal nerve located near the base of the skull. X-rays will be taken to make sure the needle is in the correct location. Next, the patient will be woken up and the nerve will be stimulated. The patient will be asked if they can feel the stimulation in the area they are experiencing pain. Once it is confirmed that the needle is in the correct location they will be put under general anesthesia again. The surgeon will then slightly damage the nerve using radiofrequency heat.
Radiofrequency ablation is not a cure for conditions like trigeminal neuralgia, but it can significantly reduce the chronic pain caused by the condition and can help to make it much more manageable. The procedure is effective in about 70% to 80% of patients and can be repeated if significant pain recurs.