In migraine, the trigeminal nerve plays a crucial role. It transmits pain signals from the brain to the face, where flare-ups occur.

Migraine causes severe headaches with other symptoms like nausea and sensitivity to light. Trigeminal neuralgia (TN), on the other hand, is a chronic pain condition affecting the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is essential for facial sensations and motor control of the jaw.

Changes in the trigeminal nerve’s structure may cause problems in some branches and lead to migraine episodes.

Let’s explore the trigeminal nerve and how it can cause migraine and headaches, as well as treatments, how to prevent migraine episodes, and when to contact a doctor.

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The trigeminal nerve may be central to what happens in your body during a migraine episode. It’s one of 12 cranial nerves that start at the base of your brain and is a key player in the pain you experience during an episode.

The trigeminal nerve carries sensory information about touch, pain, and temperature from the head and face to the brain.

When you have a migraine episode, specific triggers can activate pain-sensitive nerve endings. These nerve endings then send distress signals through the trigeminal nerve. This process, known as central sensitization, may contribute to the chronic and intense pain of episodes.

These signals contain substances like calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). Your trigeminal nerve produces CGRP in abundance. When this happens, it creates a chain reaction that potentially results in a migraine episode.

Research from 2019 has shown that blocking this CGRP activity could be enough to prevent an episode. The idea is that reducing the amount of CGRP your body produces can protect against migraine.

However, the answer to preventing migraine episodes may be more complex.

In a 2020 study, researchers compared two equal groups of people — half with migraine and half as a control group. The researchers performed imaging testing and found that people with migraine have significant differences in the trigeminal nerve structures compared with the control group.

Symptoms of a trigeminal nerve headache include:

Trigeminal nerve-related migraine episodes and TN are not the same.

Migraine episodes often result from an activation or irritation of the trigeminal nerve. These are typically characterized by throbbing, severe head pain that comes in episodes, usually on one side of the head.

Potential triggers include:

In contrast, trigeminal neuralgia is a type of facial pain syndrome. You may experience sharp, electric shock-like pain in the lower face and jaw, where the trigeminal nerve branches out. Mild stimulation, such as eating, talking, or touching your face, can trigger TN pain.

Treatment for the conditions is also different. For example, TN needs particular medication, such as carbamazepine.

Dysfunction of the trigeminal nerve does not only link to migraine. It also relates to other headache and facial pain syndromes, including:

  • Cluster headaches: This is one of the severe types of trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias (TACs) headaches. Cluster headaches involve sharp pain, typically around one eye. The headaches come in clusters or cycles, usually at the same time each day or night.
  • Paroxysmal hemicrania: This is another type of TAC. It also affects one side of the face, often with temporary pain lasting up to 30 minutes. Other symptoms include skin flushing, sweating, and eyelid swelling.
  • Short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks (SUNHA): This is another group of headaches. The primary symptom is very short but recurrent episodes of head pain.

You may need to see a doctor if your migraine episodes become more frequent or severe. Here’s what you can look out for:

  • The pattern of your headaches changes, or your headaches suddenly feel different.
  • Your headaches are increasingly severe and happen more often.
  • You experience headaches after exercising or coughing.
  • Your headache comes with other symptoms, including vision changes, difficulty speaking, or weakness on one side of the body.

One way to treat these episodes is through medications. Prophylactic treatment, like the beta-blocker propranolol, can prevent migraine.

Your doctor may also prescribe other drugs, such as anticonvulsants and calcium channel blockers.

Another noteworthy method is noninvasive neurostimulation. This technique stimulates the occipital and trigeminal nerves to help relieve migraine pain. Depending on the method, it may include a device that stimulates the nerve or an implant.

There are treatments available that may help prevent migraine episodes brought on by trigeminal nerve issues. These include:

They work by reducing the sensitivity of the trigeminal nerve, which can help lower the frequency and intensity of headaches.

Certain lifestyle habits can lead to migraine episodes. For some, key triggers may include:

By monitoring your habits and finding your triggers, you can limit them to reduce migraine episodes.

Here are some frequently asked questions about the trigeminal nerve and migraine.

Can the trigeminal nerve cause migraine episodes?

Yes, it can. The trigeminal nerve may contribute to migraine because it can be overly responsive to stimuli, which could trigger an episode.

How do you calm trigeminal nerve-caused migraine?

You can calm a trigeminal nerve migraine episode by using an FDA-approved device, such as GammaCore. These are noninvasive neurostimulators that can help reduce pain.

Medications like anticonvulsants are also common for calming pain by reducing nerve activity.

Limiting the activation of the trigeminal nerve can help reduce migraine episodes. Many treatments are available, including medication, implants, and devices.

A doctor can confirm the type of migraine condition you have and help you find the proper treatment plan for you.

If you want to learn more about migraine, including tips and tools for thriving with it, visit Healthline’s migraine hub.