Common surgical treatments for trigeminal neuralgia (TN) include microvascular decompression (MVD) and stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS). The use of MVD in elderly patients has been described but has yet to be prospectively compared to SRS, which is well-tolerated and noninvasive. The authors aimed to directly compare long-term pain control and adverse event rates for first-time surgical treatments for idiopathic TN in the elderly.
A prospectively collected database was reviewed for TN patients who had undergone treatment between 1997 and 2017 at a single institution. Standardized collection of preoperative demographics, surgical procedure, and postoperative outcomes was performed. Data analysis was limited to patients over the age of 65 years who had undergone a first-time procedure for the treatment of idiopathic TN with at least 1 year of follow-up.
One hundred ninety-three patients meeting the study inclusion criteria underwent surgical procedures for TN during the study period (54 MVD, 24 MVD+Rhiz, 115 SRS). In patients in whom an artery was not compressing the trigeminal nerve during MVD, a partial sensory rhizotomy (MVD+Rhiz) was performed. Patients in the SRS cohort were older than those in the MVD and MVD+Rhiz cohorts (mean ± SD, 79.2 ± 7.8 vs 72.9 ± 5.7 and 70.9 ± 4.8 years, respectively; p < 0.0001) and had a higher mean Charlson Comorbidity Index (3.8 ± 1.1 vs 3.0 ± 0.9 and 2.9 ± 1.0, respectively; p < 0.0001). Immediate or short-term postoperative pain-free rates (Barrow Neurological Institute [BNI] pain intensity score I) were 98.1% for MVD, 95.8% for MVD+Rhiz, and 78.3% for SRS (p = 0.0008). At the last follow-up, 72.2% of MVD patients had a favorable outcome (BNI score I–IIIa) compared to 54.2% and 49.6% of MVD+Rhiz and SRS patients, respectively (p = 0.02). In total, 0 (0%) SRS, 5 (9.3%) MVD, and 1 (4.2%) MVD+Rhiz patients developed any adverse event. Multivariate Cox proportional hazards analysis demonstrated that procedure type (p = 0.001) and postprocedure sensory change (p = 0.003) were statistically significantly associated with pain control.
In this study cohort, patients who had undergone MVD had a statistically significantly longer duration of pain freedom than those who had undergone MVD+Rhiz or SRS as their first procedure. Fewer adverse events were seen after SRS, though the MVD-associated complication rate was comparable to published rates in younger patients. Overall, the results suggest that both MVD and SRS are effective options for the elderly, despite their advanced age. Treatment choice can be tailored to a patient’s unique condition and wishes.