Treatment of idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia: comparison of long-term outcome after radiofrequency rhizotomy and microvascular decompression

V M Tronnier, D Rasche, J Hamer, A L Kienle, S Kunze
Neurosurgery 2001, 48 (6): 1261-7; discussion 1267-8

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the long-term outcome of patients after either percutaneous trigeminal rhizotomy or microvascular decompression (MVD) for idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia at a single institution.

METHODS: From 1977 to 1997, 316 radiofrequency lesion procedures and 378 MVDs were performed. Questionnaires were sent to all patients who were alive in 1981, 1982, 1992, and 1998. For all other patients, interviews were conducted with their relatives and general practitioners. A retrospective comparative analysis was performed with Kaplan-Meier probability curves as of the latest follow-up date. In addition, 80 patients who underwent MVD were examined postoperatively with quantitative sensory measurements by use of von Frey hairs.

RESULTS: Two hundred twenty-five patients who underwent MVD and 206 patients who underwent radiofrequency could be analyzed retrospectively in detail. Overall, there was a 50% risk for recurrence of pain 2 years after percutaneous radiofrequency rhizotomy. Conversely, 64% of patients who underwent MVD remained completely pain free 20 years postoperatively. Patients without sensory impairment after MVD were pain free significantly longer than patients who experienced postoperative hypesthesia or partial rhizotomy.

CONCLUSION: Because it is curative and nondestructive, MVD is considered the treatment of choice for trigeminal neuralgia in otherwise healthy people. In our study, it proved to be a more effective and long-lasting procedure for patients with typical trigeminal neuralgia than radiofrequency rhizotomy. Patients without postoperative sensory deficit remained pain free significantly longer, which is a strong argument against the "trauma" hypothesis of this procedure.

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