Comparison of percutaneous balloon compression and glycerol rhizotomy for the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia

J Neurosurg 113:486–492, 2010.DOI: 10.3171/2010.1.JNS091106

The aim of this study was to compare percutaneous balloon compression (PBC) and percutaneous retrogasserian glycerol rhizotomy (PRGR) in terms of effectiveness, complications, and technical aspects.

Methods. Sixty-six consecutive PBC procedures were performed in 45 patients between January 2004 and December 2008, and 120 PRGR attempts were performed in 101 patients between January 2006 and December 2008. The PRGR procedures were not completed due to technical reasons in 19 cases. Five patients in the Balloon Compression Group and 9 patients in the Glycerol Group were lost to follow-up and were excluded from the study. The medical records and the intraoperative fluoroscopic images from the remaining cases were retrospectively examined, and the follow-up was completed with telephone contact, when necessary. The 2 groups were compared in terms of initial effect, duration of effect, and rates of complications as well as severity and type of complications.

Results. The rates for immediate pain relief were 87% for patients treated with glycerol injection and 85% for patients treated with balloon compression. The Kaplan-Meier plots for the 2 treatment modalities were similar. The 50% recurrence time was 21 months for the balloon procedure and 16 months for the glycerol procedure. When the groups were broken down by the “previous operations” criterion, the 50% recurrence time was 24 months for the Glycerol First Procedure Group, 6 months for the Balloon First Procedure Group, 8 months for the Glycerol Previous Procedures Group, and 21 months for the Balloon Previous Procedures Group. The rates of complications (excluding numbness) were 11% for PRGR and 23% for PBC, and this difference was statistically significant (chi-square test, p = 0.04).

Conclusions. Both PRGR and PBC are effective techniques for the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia, with PRGR presenting some advantages in terms of milder and fewer complications and allowing lighter anesthesia without compromise of analgesia. For these reasons the authors consider PRGR as the first option for the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia in patients who are not suitable candidates or are not willing to undergo microvascular decompression, while PBC is reserved for patients in whom the effect of PRGR has proven to be short or difficult to repeat due to cisternal fibrosis.