According to the Migraine Research Foundation, nearly 1 in 4 American households have at least one member suffering from migraine headaches. About 4% of these sufferers have chronic migraines that can occur as many as 15 days per month, lasting 4-6 hours each. Migraines can be severely debilitating and include symptoms such as pulsing or throbbing pain, sensitivity to light and sound, blurred vision, and nausea or vomiting.
Most people think of Botox as a treatment for wrinkles, stiff muscles, and similar complaints. While Botox helps alleviate these, recent research tells us it can benefit chronic migraine patients, too. Dr. John R. Schneider with Comprehensive Pain and Neurology Center in Brentwood, Murfreesboro and Spring Hill, TN shares, “Botox is a FDA approved medication that is injected in small amounts at specified muscle targets around the head and neck.”
The injection pattern includes 31 injections over 7 areas of the head and neck, given once every 12 weeks. Physicians use small, fine needles to prevent discomfort. The injections may feel like tiny pinpricks. Dr. Schneider’s patients report a reduction in the severity and frequency of headaches by over 50% from the baseline.
Botox differs from other chronic migraine treatments. According to Dr. Schneider, “Botox is considered a prophylactic medication, meaning the medication is used to help prevent a problem from starting. Typical migraine medications focus on aborting the headache once it starts. Chronic migraine patients usually manage with a combination of both types of medications.”
Many patients are concerned about getting injections with needles. The typical needle size is quite small and comparable to insulin needles. Other patients are anxious about having “toxin” put in their body. Dr. Schneider responds, “although this is not an unreasonable concern, the amount of toxin injected is quite small and rarely causes any unwanted side effects.”
To prevent or lessen any side effects, patients should tell their doctor about any medication they currently take, and not start new medications until they know how their body reacts to Botox. Although not very frequent, Botox’s common side effects include – pain at the injection sites, head and neck pain and vision problems; tell a doctor right away if this occurs. Additionally, patients should tell their doctor if they’ve received Botox for any other condition, the number of injections received, and exactly what type of Botox received.
Dr. Schneider reminds migraine suffers to “be aggressive with treatment and do not wait until the migraine has peaked before initiating treatment. Try to identify any triggers to your migraine and eliminate as much as possible.”
Remember, Botox is a preventative treatment that needs time to work. Stay in touch with the doctor to chart progress and be specific about any symptom experiences. If a patient is not progressing as he or she would like or if the headache days don’t diminish after 1-2 treatments, the patient and their doctor may need to discuss alternative treatments.