To critically examine the efficacy and safety of microvascular decompression (MVD) for trigeminal neuralgia (TN) in elderly patients.
We performed a retrospective review of medical records, followed by prospective follow-up. The outcome data from 44 MVD operations for TN performed in 40 consecutive patients with a mean age of 65 years (range, 60–75 yr) in the period 1991 to 2001 were compared with those from 40 younger control subjects (mean age, 46 yr; range, 20–59 yr) operated on during the same period.
The median time from diagnosis of TN to MVD in the older patients was 7 years (range, 1–22 yr), compared with 3 years (range, 3 mo to 20 yr) in the younger group (P = 0.02). With the exception of one, all patients in this study were classified as American Society of Anesthesiologist Grade 1 or 2. Initial pain relief was achieved in 98 and 100% of the patients in the study and control groups, respectively. There were no operative mortalities or life-threatening morbidities. Transient facial numbness and diplopia occurred in both groups. Headaches, nausea, and vomiting were more frequent in the younger patients, whereas wound infection and confusion were more common in the older patients. The mean length of hospital stay was 5.4 days (range, 3–10 d) for the older patients, compared with 5.3 days (range, 3–9 d) for the control group (P = 0.4). After average follow-ups of 30 and 33 months, the pain recurred in 24 and 27% of the patients in the elderly and control groups, respectively.
MVD is underused in the elderly despite being both safe and effective. Fitness and not age should be the key in deciding the treatment options. It is proposed that any patient with medically refractory TN who is fit for general anesthesia should be given the opportunity to choose MVD.