Because the incidence of trigeminal neuralgia (TN) increases with age, neurosurgeons frequently encounter elderly patients with this disorder. Although microvascular decompression (MVD) is the only etiological therapy for TN with the highest initial efficacy and durability of all treatments, it is nonetheless associated with special risks (cerebellar hematoma, cranial nerve injury, stroke, and death) not seen with the commonly performed ablative procedures. Thus, the safety of MVD in the elderly remains a concern. This prospective study and systematic review with meta-analysis was conducted to determine whether MVD is a safe and effective treatment in elderly patients with TN.
In this prospectively conducted analysis, 36 elderly patients (mean age 73.0 ± 5.9 years) and 53 nonelderly patients (mean age 52.9 ± 8.8 years) underwent MVD over the study period. Outcome and complication data were recorded.
The authors also conducted a systematic review of the English literature published before December 2009 and providing outcomes and complications of MVD in patients with TN above the age of 60 years. Pooled complication rates of stroke, death, cerebellar hematoma, and permanent cranial nerve deficits were analyzed.
Thirty-one elderly patients (86.1%) reported an excellent outcome after MVD (mean follow-up 20.0 ± 7.0 months). Twenty-five elderly patients with Type 1 TN were compared with 26 nonelderly patients with Type 1 TN, and no significant difference in outcomes was found (p = 0.046). Three elderly patients with Type 2a TN were compared with 12 nonelderly patients with Type 2a TN, and no significant difference in outcomes was noted (p = 1.0). Eight elderly patients with Type 2b TN were compared with 15 nonelderly patients with Type 2b TN, and no significant difference in outcomes was noted (p = 0.086). The median length of stay between cohorts was compared, and no significant difference was noted (2 days for each cohort, p = 0.33). There were no CSF leaks, no cerebellar hematomas, no strokes, and no deaths.
Eight studies (1334 patients) met the inclusion criteria for the meta-analysis. For none of the complications was the incidence significantly more frequent in elderly patients than in the nonelderly.
Although patient selection remains important, the authors' experience and the results of this systematic review with meta-analysis suggest that the majority of elderly patients with TN can safely undergo MVD.