BACKGROUND: Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a severe, disabling form of painful cranial neuropathy. Even though TN has a typical clinical picture, diagnosis it is often missed or delayed in clinical practice. In order to investigate the occurrence of diagnostic and therapeutic errors in TN, we studied 102 patients suffering from TN recruited through a multicentric survey.
METHODS: We performed a Pubmed database search on errors and pittfalls in TN diagnosis and management. Then, patients with TN were consecutively enrolled in the period from February 2017 to October 2019, by several European Headache Centers participating in the study, following a call of the Headache and Pain Scientific Panels of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN). Diagnosis of Classical Trigeminal Neuralgia (CTN) was made according to the International Headache Society (IHS) criteria (Tölle et al., Pain Pract 6:153-160, 2006). All the patients were evaluated using telephone/frontal interviews conducted by headache/pain specialists using an ad hoc questionnaire.
RESULTS: A number of 102 patients were recruited, mostly females (F:M ratio 2.64:1). Eighty-six percent of the patients consulted a physician at the time they experienced the first pain attacks. Specialists consulted before TN diagnosis were: primary care physicians (PCP) (43.1%), dentists (in 30.4%), otorhinolaryngologists (3.9%), neurosurgeons (3.9%), neurologists or headache specialists (14.7%), others (8%). The final diagnosis was made mainly by a neurologist or headache specialist (85.3%), and the mean interval between the disease onset and the diagnosis made by a specialist was 10.8 ± 21.2 months. The "diagnostic delay" was 7.2 ± 12.5 months, and misdiagnoses at first consultation were found in 42.1% of cases. Instrumental and laboratory investigations were carried out in 93.1% of the patients before the final diagnosis of TN.
CONCLUSION: While TN has typical features and it is well defined by the available international diagnostic criteria, it is still frequently misdiagnosed and mistreated. There is a need to improve the neurological knowledge in order to promptly recognize the clinical picture of TN and properly adhere to the specific guidelines. This may result in a favorable outcome for patients, whose quality of life is usually severely impaired.