Posterior Fossa Exploration for Trigeminal Neuralgia Patients Older Than 70 Years of Age

Neurosurgery 69:1255–1260, 2011 DOI: 10.1227/NEU.0b013e31822ba315

Patients with medically unresponsive trigeminal neuralgia (TN) who are >70 years of age often undergo operations that typically provide pain relief for <5 years despite having a life expectancy that can exceed 15 years.

OBJECTIVE: To review the safety and efficacy of posterior fossa exploration (PFE) for TN patients >70 years of age.

METHODS: From 1999 to 2009, 67 TN patients >70 years of age (median, 74 years) underwent a PFE. Thirty-seven patients (55%) had failed ≥1 prior surgeries (median, 2). Fifty-nine patients (88%) had a microvascular decompression, and 8 patients (12%) underwent a partial sensory rhizotomy. Follow-up (median, 40 months) was censored at the time of last contact (n = 51), additional surgery (n = 12), or death (n = 4).

RESULTS: Complete pain relief (no pain, no medications) was 87% at 1 year and 78% at 5 years. Facial pain outcomes did not correlate with patient age, sex, prior surgery, or pain duration. Postoperative complications were noted in 10 patients (15%) and included ataxia (10%), hearing loss (5%), trigeminal dysesthesias (5%), facial weakness (3%), aseptic meningitis (2%), and pulmonary embolus (2%). Factors associated with postoperative complications were prior PFE (P = .01) and neurovascular compression from a dolicoectatic basilar artery (P = .03).

CONCLUSION: Posterior fossa exploration is safe and effective for physiologically healthy TN patients .70 years of age. It should be deferred in older patients with TN secondary to a dolicoectatic basilar artery and patients who have persistent/recurrent pain after a previous PFE unless simpler procedures prove ineffective at controlling their facial pain.