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Does Botox Help Cure Headaches?

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 21 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Botox Botulinum Toxin Location Headaches

Taking a substance used in the plastic surgery industry and suggesting it be used for headaches is probably one of the fastest and easiest ways to stir up controversy. Botulinum toxin A also called Botox, comes from the same group of bacteria that cause tetanus.

What is Botox?

You may already be familiar with the term 'tetanus' if you have ever received a tetanus vaccination. A purified protein, Botox is thought to relieve tensed muscles through its blockage of the nerve signals that cause muscle tension and contractions. Botox halts the conduction of nerve impulses and temporarily results in muscle paralysis. More recently, Botox has been found to subdue and prevent the pain associated with headaches and migraines.

Based on a recent large-scale study, Botox is cited as an effective treatment for headaches and migraines. More than three quarters of patients in the study said that following Botox treatment, headache pain was reduced in frequency, intensity or both. The study involved patients who suffered from migraines as well as generalized head pain. Many of the subjects had tried other treatments, and these had not been successful. More than half had also stated that medications were being overused. With medication overuse causing rebound headaches, the quest for an effective headache treatment that maintains efficacy and does not cause withdrawal headaches is important for sufferers.

How is Botox Taken?

A doctor will inject Botox under an individual's skin and into the muscle. Botox is given in a liquid form and a person will typically receive anywhere from ten to twenty-five injections to the head, neck and shoulder area. Treatments are not usually painful to receive and feel like a sharp prick.

The mechanism of head pain relief is not entirely understood. In a migraine, it is thought that Botox stops the proteins involved in pain transmission to the brain. Overall, scientists suggest that Botox somehow alters the nerves that transmit pain messages to the brain as well as providing relaxation to muscles. This means that the nerves are not as sensitive to pain.

Botox also has been found to cause fewer side effects than many other pharmaceutical treatments currently on the market for headache and migraine relief. Side effects that have been indicated are drooping of the eyelid or eyebrow, neck muscle weakness and head pain. According to recent studies, however, these side effects are still quite uncommon. Relief usually requires approximately two to three weeks to take effect following administration of Botox via injection. It is thought that the more time that elapses during which a patient receives treatment, the more effective the head pain relief.

Is Botex Safe?

Depending on your geographic location, Botox may not be approved specifically for headache and migraine treatment. This does not, however, mean that a doctor can't still administer it regardless. It is a legal and common albeit controversial practice for a doctor to prescribe a drug to treat a different condition than the one it is intended for.

Any questions you have about potentially using Botox to treat your headaches and migraines must be discussed with your doctor. Research thus far looks promising and hopefully, ongoing and new studies can provide more information about the positive uses for Botox in treating head pain.

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