Even though most people think of Botox as a treatment for smoothing out facial wrinkles, in 2010 it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a safe treatment for chronic migraines.
Botox is a type of botulinum toxin which is a protein extracted from the bacterium clostridium botulinum. This toxin, in its original form, is responsible for the foodborne illness that causes botulism. Initially, it might not sound like a good idea to inject yourself with something that causes botulism, but Botox contains such a small amount of toxin that there is little chance of serious side effects.
In fact, botulinum toxin is now being used to treat a range of conditions including overactive bladder, muscle spasms, and excessive sweating. A recent analysis discovered that chronic migraine sufferers did benefit from Botox, improving the quality of life for those patients and reducing the frequency of chronic migraines with little or no side effects.
How Are Headaches and Migraines Different?
Headaches have different causes and effects than migraines.
Headaches generally cause pressure or an ache that usually occurs on both sides of the head. Ranging from mild to severe, headaches can appear on the forehead, the temples, and the back of the neck.
The most common type of headache, according to the Mayo Clinic, is tension headaches. These can last from 30 minutes to a week and are commonly caused by stress, anxiety, or muscle strain.
Migraines are much more intense than headaches making daily tasks difficult to accomplish. They can be so severe that some may have to go to the emergency room.
Migraines will usually only affect one side of the skull and have additional symptoms besides just head pain. These include pain behind one eye or ear, nausea, seeing spots, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound.
Who Qualifies for Botox Treatment?
Botox is currently only approved for treating chronic migraine headaches and not episodic migraines.
For a migraine to be considered chronic, as opposed to episodic, patients must experience migraines for 15 or more days a month for three consecutive months. And during 8 of those 15 days, each migraine must last at least 4 hours.
Botox is currently being used on patients only after other treatments have failed. But there has been a marked improvement in the quality of life for migraine sufferers who are using the treatment, and health insurance plans will often cover the costs of treatment.
How Does Botox Prevent Migraines?
Headache specialists began researching it as a treatment for chronic migraines in 2000 after people receiving Botox injections for cosmetic purposes reported that their headaches had gotten better.
At first, researchers believed that Botox worked on migraines by paralyzing the muscles in the head thus preventing them from contracting and causing migraines.
But later it was determined that when botulinum toxin travels into nerves, it most likely changes the release of neurotransmitters which carry signals between brain cells.
It is most likely that the process interrupts the release of chemicals like substance “P” and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CRGP) which regulate the intensity of pain.
Unfortunately, the effect is temporary, and patients will be scheduled for ongoing treatment. A typical regimen will be to receive an injection every 12 weeks, or 4 times a year.
Each treatment takes about 15 minutes to an hour. During which, several sites around the neck and head will receive injections. In total there will be an average of 30 injections into 7 muscle areas. With each injection, the patient might feel a slight pinprick or slight burning feeling, but any discomfort has been reported as mild.
There is a possibility that Botox could spread from the injection site and cause muscle weakness and paralysis. For this reason, doctors avoid using it on people who have muscle weakness conditions.
Learn More About Clinical Trials in Boston
Are you interested in participating in a clinical trial for chronic migraines? We have a wide variety of clinical trials available if you qualify and meet specific criteria.