Microvascular decompression for trigeminal neuralgia in the elderly: long-term treatment outcome and comparison with younger patients

Thomas Günther, Venelin M Gerganov, Lennart Stieglitz, Wolf Ludemann, Amir Samii, Madjid Samii
Neurosurgery 2009, 65 (3): 477-82; discussion 482

OBJECTIVE: Multiple studies have proved that microvascular decompression (MVD) is the treatment of choice in cases of medically refractory trigeminal neuralgia (TN). In the elderly, however, the surgical risks related to MVD are assumed to be unacceptably high and various alternative therapies have been proposed. We evaluated the outcomes of MVD in patients aged older than 65 years of age and compared them with the outcomes in a matched group of younger patients. The focus was on procedure-related morbidity rate and long-term outcome.

METHODS: This was a retrospective study of 112 patients with TN operated on consecutively over 22 years. The main outcome measures were immediate and long-term postoperative pain relief and neurological status, especially function of trigeminal, facial, and cochlear nerves, as well as surgical complications. A questionnaire was used to assess long-term outcome: pain relief, duration of a pain-free period, need for pain medications, time to recurrence, pain severity, and need for additional treatment.

RESULTS: The mean age was 70.35 years. The second and third branches of the trigeminal nerve were most frequently affected (37.3%). The mean follow-up period was 90 months (range, 48-295 months). Seventy-five percent of the patients were completely pain free, 11% were never pain free, and 14% experienced recurrences. No statistically significant differences existed in the outcome between the younger and older patient groups. Postoperative morbidity included trigeminal hypesthesia in 6.25%, hypacusis in 5.4%, and complete hearing loss, vertigo, and partial facial nerve palsy in 0.89% each. Cerebrospinal fluid leak and meningitis occurred in 1 patient each. There were no mortalities in both groups.

CONCLUSION: MVD for TN is a safe procedure even in the elderly. The risk of serious morbidity or mortality is similar to that in younger patients. Furthermore, no significant differences in short- and long-term outcome were found. Thus, MVD is the treatment of choice in patients with medically refractory TN, unless their general condition prohibits it.

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