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At the UCLA Neuromodulation for Movement Disorders and Pain Program, our team performs radiofrequency ablation to treat chronic pain conditions, such as trigeminal neuralgia. While this surgery can't cure your condition, it can ease your pain and make life more enjoyable.
What is radiofrequency ablation for trigeminal neuralgia?
Ablation is a medical term that refers to the removal of tissue. Radiofrequency ablation, or RFA, is a surgical technique that directs high-frequency heat onto targeted areas of the body, such as tissues, tumors and - in the case of chronic pain - nerves.
If you suffer from trigeminal neuralgia, your neurosurgeon uses radiofrequency ablation to target the trigeminal nerve, destroying its ability to transmit pain signals to your brain.
Am I a candidate for radiofrequency ablation surgery at UCLA?
The first line of treatment for trigeminal neuralgia is medication. If you suffer from severe facial pain and do not respond well to medication, your doctor may recommend radiofrequency ablation surgery.
What happens during radiofrequency ablation for trigeminal neuralgia?
Patients are awake and asleep at different times during radiofrequency ablation for trigeminal neuralgia. Here's what you should expect:
- While you are asleep under general anesthesia, your neurosurgeon will carefully place a needle through the corner of your mouth to reach the trigeminal nerve at the base of the skull.
- After X-rays confirm the needle is in place, your neurosurgeon will wake you up, stimulate the nerve and ask if you feel the stimulation in the same place where you experience pain. This step confirms that your doctor has targeted the right location.
- After you are put back to sleep, your neurosurgeon uses radiofrequency heat to slightly injure the nerve just enough that it causes some facial numbness and tingling and takes the pain away.
What to expect after radiofrequency ablation
- This procedure works in 70-80 percent of patients
- 50 percent of patients will experience recurrent pain in two years
The treatment can be repeated if pain recurs.
Interested in radiofrequency ablation at UCLA? Get prepared for your first appointment.