Trigeminal neuralgia in children and adolescents: Experience of a tertiary pediatric headache clinic

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Abstract

Objectives

To describe the characteristics and treatment of trigeminal neuralgia in children attending a dedicated pediatric headache clinic.

Background

Data on trigeminal neuralgia as a cause of headache are largely derived from adult studies. Little is known about the etiology, symptoms, treatment, and outcome of the disorder in children and adolescents.

Methods

A case series study was undertaken. The database of a headache clinic within a tertiary, university‐affiliated, pediatric medical center was searched for all patients aged 3–18 years presenting with clinical and epidemiological features of trigeminal neuralgia or trigeminal neuropathy from January 2015 to December 2019. The diagnosis was revised for the present study according to the criteria of the International Classification of Headache Disorders, third edition. Data on demographic parameters, clinical symptoms, treatment, and outcome were collected from the medical files.

Results

Of the 1040 patients who presented to our clinic during the study period, five (0.5%) were diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia. Mean patient age was 15.1 ± 3.0 years (range 9.5–17.5; 95% CI 10.8–18.9). All had idiopathic type: purely paroxysmal in one and with concomitant continuous pain in four. Findings on herpes serology in all five and magnetic resonance imaging were normal in four patients. In the fifth, a vascular ring was noted from the superior cerebellar artery around the right trigeminal nerve without radiologic evidence of vascular nerve compression. All patients were initially treated with carbamazepine: one reported partial relief, two did not respond, and two had severe adverse effects. Three patients were switched to gabapentin but only one responded well. Three patients were treated with nerve block.

Conclusion

Trigeminal neuralgia accounted for only a small proportion of patients seeking treatment for headache in pediatric headache clinic over a 5‐year period. Unlike findings in adults, vascular compression was not the underlying mechanism in any of our patients. The response to pharmacologic treatment was poor. Nerve block may serve as an alternative when pharmacologic treatment fails.

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