Botox treatment may ease migraines
November 22, 1999
From Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland
Web posted at: 2:33 p.m. EST (1933 GMT)
ATLANTA (CNN) -- A new treatment, discovered by accident, may bring relief for migraine headache sufferers.
During the 1990s, plastic surgeon Dr. William Binder was studying the ability of botulinum toxin -- known as Botox -- to get rid of facial wrinkles when he made a serendipitous discovery.
"Instead of determining what was happening with their wrinkles, many of my patients came back and said, 'Not only have my wrinkles disappeared, but my headaches had also disappeared.'"
CNN's Rhonda Rowland reports on a migraine treatment that was discovered accidentally.
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The number of women suffering from migraine headaches increased by 56 percent in the 1980s. Researchers suggest stress, dieting and greater recognition of migraine symptoms may have contributed to the increase. More men are also suffering from migraines.
Must be used 'off-label'
Carol Aminoff suffered from migraine headaches since she was 12 years old. She had tried a number of remedies.
"Then I tried Botox injections; this was approximately four years ago," she said. "I have not had a migraine headache in four years."
The treatment of severe headaches really belongs to neurologists, not plastic surgeons. But the Botox remedy is gaining acceptance.
"I think it was accepted pretty quickly," said Emory University neurologist Dr. David Hewitt. "There are a number of people around the country who are using it off-label to treat headache."
Botox is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatments of headaches, though neurologists have used the substance for years to treat conditions characterized by uncontrolled twitching or spastic muscles.
"This is a very safe procedure as long as you don't inject too much in the wrong place," Hewitt said.
More research needed
Botox works by temporarily weakening or paralyzing muscles. Used in the wrong place, it can distort your facial appearance for a month or two. Botox does not have any other side effects.
In treating migraines and other severe headaches, there are still some questions -- such as what is the optimal dose, and where should Botox be injected to get the best results?
Two large studies are under way at headache clinics around the country that may provide those answers.
Until there is more research, however, Binder said it's premature to recommend Botox for all headache sufferers.
"It doesn't work on everyone; it doesn't work on all headaches," Binder said. "You still have a population even in our study of 15 to 20 percent of patients where it did not work."
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