Microvascular decompression in trigeminal neuralgia: predictors of pain relief, complication avoidance, and lessons learned

Acta Neurochirurgica (2021) 163:3321–3336

To analyze characteristics associated with long-term pain relief after microvascular decompression (MVD) for trigeminal neuralgia (TGN). Description of associated morbidity and complication avoidance.

Methods One hundred sixty-five patients with TGN underwent 171 MVD surgeries at the authors’ institution. Patient characteristics and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) datasets were obtained through the hospital’s archiving system. Patients provided information about pre- and post-operative pain characteristics and neurologic outcome. Favorable outcome was defined as a Barrow Neurological Institute (BNI) pain intensity score of I to III with post-operative improvement of I grade.

Results Type of TGN pain with purely paroxysmal pain (p = 0.0202*) and TGN classification with classical TGN (p = 0.0372*) were the only significant predictors for long-term pain relief. Immediate pain relief occurred in 90.6% of patients with a recurrence rate of 39.4% after 3.5 ± 4.6 years. MRI reporting of a neurovascular conflict had a low negative predictive value of 39.6%. Mortality was 0% with major complications observed in 8.2% of patients. Older age was associated with lower complication rates (p = 0.0009***). Re-MVD surgeries showed improved long-term pain relief in four out of five cases.

Conclusions MVD is a safe and effective procedure even in the elderly. It has the unique potential to cure TGN if performed on a regular basis, and if key surgical steps are respected. Early MVD should be offered in case of medical treatment failure and paroxysmal pain symptoms. The presence of a neurovascular conflict on MRI is not mandatory. In case of recurrence, re-MVD is a good treatment option that should be discussed with patients.