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New Botox benefit? No wrinkles, no headaches

Studies suggest Botox can help people who suffer from migraines.
Studies suggest Botox can help people who suffer from migraines.  

(CNN) -- The goal was to help fade frown lines, but a number of studies have found that a cosmetic treatment could have medical benefits.

Tuesday at the annual gathering of the American Headache Society, presenters are releasing findings of 13 studies that indicate Botox, a wrinkle-smoothing drug, rid a number of patients of severe headaches.

One particular project suggests that people plagued with headaches who also had Botox injections for cosmetic reasons suffered from fewer migraines, experienced a reduction in the disabling effects of migraines and used less pain medication.

Doctors who participated in the studies said they were encouraged about the relatively few risks of using Botox to curb headache pain.

"The biggest advantage to Botox is its lack of side effects, especially compared to other medications," Dr. William Ondo of the Baylor College of Medicine said in an AHS press release. "It really is extremely safe and appears to be very effective for some people."

Click here for other off-label drug uses. 

Taking a medication to treat an ailment for which the Food and Drug Administration has not approved it is known as "off label use," and a number of drugs are used in that manner.

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Results from tracking 650 migraine and tension headache sufferers suggests that Botox has off-label benefits.

According to the American Headache Society, about 28 million Americans endure migraines and 10 million more experience chronic daily headaches, which means they hurt at least 15 days each month.

Handling headache

Botox approved to treat:

- Cross-eyes
- Uncontrollable blinking
- Cervical dystonia (a neurological disorder that causes severe neck and shoulder contractions)
- Moderate to severe frown lines between eyebrows

Botox being studied to treat:

- Excessive sweating
- Spasticity after a stroke
- Back spasms
- Headaches

Source: Allergan Inc.

Doctors administer Botox by injecting it as a liquid under patients' skin. Patients usually get about 10 to 25 shots in the head, neck and shoulders. The small needle feels like a pin prick or bug bite.

It is not really clear how Botox curbs headache pain and stiffness. Researchers think Botox blocks sensory nerves that relay pain messages to the brain and relaxes muscles, making them less sensitive to pain.

According to results from a study conducted at Wake Forest, Botox side effects are minimal. Doctors found a small risk the skin around the injection site would droop temporarily. The problem is avoidable if physicians know what areas to avoid.

And sometimes patients experienced slight bruising, bleeding at the injection site or a burning sensation.

Examining results

More than half of the 48 patients in a study at a Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, said their migraine occurrences dropped by 50 percent or more.

Of the ones who had a positive response, 61 percent said they had headaches less frequently and almost 30 percent said the headaches were less severe.

At the Baylor College of Medicine Headache Clinic, 58 patients participated in a controlled trial. Some received Botox and others had placebos.

After three months, 55 percent of the patients who received Botox reported at least moderate improvement in their headaches. Two of the 29 who got the placebo water injections reported the same results.

The headache and Botox connection began emerging in 1992 when a California physician noted his patients who got Botox injections said they were having fewer headaches.




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