Neurosurgical interventions for the treatment of classical trigeminal neuralgia

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Background: Surgical interventions are used for trigeminal neuralgia when drug treatment fails. Surgical treatments divide into two main categories, ablative (destructive) or non-ablative. These treatments can be done at three different sites: peripherally, at the Gasserian ganglion level, and within the posterior fossa of the skull. Objectives: To assess the efficacy of neurosurgical interventions for classical trigeminal neuralgia in terms of pain relief, quality of life and any harms. To determine if there are defined subgroups of patients more likely to benefit. Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Neuromuscular Disease Group Specialized Register, (13 May 2010), CENTRAL (Issue 2, 2010 part of the Cochrane Library), Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Database, NHS Economic Evaluation Database (NHSEED) and Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE) (Issue 4, 2010 (HTA, NHSEED and DARE are part of the Cochrane Library)), MEDLINE (January 1966 to May 2010) and EMBASE (January 1980 to May 2010) with no language exclusion. Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomised controlled trials of neurosurgical interventions used in the treatment of classical trigeminal neuralgia. Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. We contacted authors for clarification and missing information whenever possible. Main results: Eleven studies involving 496 participants met some of the inclusion criteria stated in the protocol. One hundred and eighty patients in five studies had peripheral interventions, 229 patients in five studies had percutaneous interventions applied to the Gasserian ganglion, and 87 patients in one study underwent two modalities of stereotactic radiosurgery (Gamma Knife) treatment. No studies addressing microvascular decompression (which is the only non-ablative procedure) met the inclusion criteria. All but two of the identified studies had a high to medium risk of bias because of either missing data or methodological inconsistency. It was not possible to undertake meta-analysis because of differences in the intervention modalities and variable outcome measures. Three studies had sufficient outcome data for analysis. One trial, which involved 40 participants, compared two techniques of radiofrequency thermocoagulation (RFT) of the Gasserian ganglion at six months. Pulsed RFT resulted in return of pain in all participants by three months. When this group were converted to conventional (continuous) treatment these participants achieved pain control comparable to the group that had received conventional treatment from the outset. Sensory changes were common in the continuous treatment group. In another trial, of 87 participants, investigators compared radiation treatment to the trigeminal nerve at one or two isocentres in the posterior fossa. There were insufficient data to determine if one technique was superior to another. Two isocentres increased the incidence of sensory loss. Increased age and prior surgery were predictors for poorer pain relief. Relapses were nonsignificantly reduced with two isocentres (risk ratio (RR) 0.72, 95% confidence intervaI (CI) 0.30 to 1.71). A third study compared two techniques for RFT in 54 participants for 10 to 54 months. Both techniques produced pain relief (not significantly in favour of neuronavigation (RR 0.70, 95% CI 0.46 to 1.04) but relief was more sustained and side effects fewer if a neuronavigation system was used. The remaining eight studies did not report outcomes as predetermined in our protocol. Authors' conclusions: There is very low quality evidence for the efficacy of most neurosurgical procedures for trigeminal neuralgia because of the poor quality of the trials. All procedures produced variable pain relief, but many resulted in sensory side effects. There were no studies of microvascular decompression which observational data suggests gives the longest pain relief. There is little evidence to help comparative decision making about the best surgical procedure. Well designed studies are urgently needed.




Zakrzewska, J. M., & Akram, H. (2011, September 7). Neurosurgical interventions for the treatment of classical trigeminal neuralgia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

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