Are you lately suffering from acute pain in your upper neck region, behind the eyes or the back of your head? You could be having Occipital Neuralgia, for these are the classic signs of the condition. Read on to know more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
What is Occipital Neuralgia?
Occipital Neuralgia is a neurological condition characterized by injury or inflammation of occipital nerves which gives rise to intense pain in the areas where the nerves are present.
Causes of Occipital Neuralgia
Any factor or condition that leads to a damage of the occipital nerves can result in this medical disorder. These include:
Picture 1 – Occipital Neuralgia
- Tumors in the neck
- Pressure on the neck or tight neck muscles
- Health complications, such as Osteochondroma
- Infection in the nerves present on the back of head
- Continuous neck contraction
- Vascular Compression
- Exposure to certain chemicals
It should be noted that the abovementioned causes are actually the risk factors for this neurological disorder. People with such conditions or factors do not necessarily suffer from this medical problem. However, you should take proper precautions to avoid these factors.
Symptoms of Occipital Neuralgia
The condition is characterized by a number of symptoms, which are typical in patients. Some of these may be similar to those of common types of headaches. The symptoms of this disease persist for anytime between a few days to months. The type of the symptoms tends to differ from one person to another although the nature of them remains the same. Some of the typical symptoms of this neurological condition involve:
- Intense burning pain in the back of head and eye
- Origin of the pain at the base of the head and its upward movement
- Pain at the back of the eye
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Pain during neck movements
The serious symptoms of this disorder, which demand immediate medical attention, include:
- Difficulty in walking or maintaining proper balance
- Weakness or numbness of the muscles
- Mental confusion
- Loss of consciousness, in extreme cases
- Intense constant headache
- Loss of vision, in acute cases
You should be more careful with acute symptoms, such as these. If neglected, these may even cause death. You need to contact a professional doctor as soon as you notice these problems.
Diagnosis of Occipital Neuralgia
The diagnosis of this medical condition requires different tests to be performed. If you are experiencing the above mentioned symptoms, you should visit a doctor for the diagnosis of this disease. The commonly used diagnostic procedures include:
- Physical examination, for analysis of any injury
- Medical examinations, such as blood test, MRI scan or CAT scan. CAT scan shows the spinal canal, its structures, and the deformities present. MRI scan, on the other hand, shows spinal cord impingement.
- Use of an anesthetic to check the response to pain. If the anesthetic succeeds in relieving the pain, it can be concluded that the person is having occipital neuralgia.
The symptoms of Occipital neuralgia are similar to those of migraine and some other types of headache. Thus, a proper diagnosis of the condition is necessary to distinguish it from apparently similar disorders. Proper diagnosis of occipital neuralgia is also necessary for choosing the correct treatment for the condition.
Treatment of Occipital Neuralgia
Different forms of treatment are available for this condition, depending on the intensity of its symptoms. You can either take some measures on your own or consult a physician as per the severity of the condition.
Self treatment of the disease involves measures for controlling the pain associated with occipital neuralgia. You can take following measures to reduce the pain:
- Avoid unnecessary neck movements
- Take proper rest
- Apply heat gently to your neck
- Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Naproxen, to relieve the pain. However, be careful with the dosage as an overdose of these medications can result in serious health complications.
Massaging the back of the head or neck relieves pain by improving the flow of blood and oxygen. Massaging the affected parts is one of the most effective self-treatment procedures for this disorder. You can take the help of a family member for this purpose.
The drugs prescribed by doctors for treating this problem include:
- Muscle relaxants
- Nerve blockers and steroid injections
- Anticonvulsant drugs like Carabamazepine and Gabapentin
- Anti-depressant drugs
Picture 2 – Occipital Neuralgia Image
In some cases, surgery might be required. Operative procedures are especially needed when the condition does not show any response to medications. The surgery for occipital neuralgia consists of:
- Microvascular decompression: This involves adjusting the injured or inflamed nerves by the doctor. Since the nerves are adjusted in this process, the pain due to injury or inflammation also disappears.
- Occipital Nerve Stimulation: This process makes use of a neurostimulator to provide electrical impulses to the occipital nerves.
Doctors also often recommend back and neck exercises to patients. These provide strength to the muscles present in the affected parts. This results in a better posture which eliminates the chances of headache due to extra strain on the neck muscles.
Make sure that you consult a good medical professional at the earliest signs of this disorder. With proper rest, medications and adherence to the advice of your doctor you can easily recover from Occipital Neuralgia.