According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 37 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches. Migraines are not ordinary headaches that can be tolerated with an over-the-counter painkiller.
Migraine sufferers experience debilitating pain, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and changes in vision. These symptoms are often so severe that sufferers must lie down in a dark room for hours and even days, which can result in time away from work and lost wages. Other patients experience migraines primarily on weekends as the stress of the workweek wears off, causing them to miss out on precious family and leisure time.
Chronic migraine is defined by headaches on 15 or more days per month for at least three months, with eight of those 15 days meeting the criteria for migraine.
There is no definitive test to diagnose migraines or verify the level of pain a patient is experiencing, so physicians rely on detailed patient history, including the frequency and duration of headaches, other symptoms experienced and the effect on the patient's everyday life.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for migraines, but treatment options are available. Once a diagnosis has been made, physicians may prescribe a number of medications, including antidepressants, anti-seizure and blood pressure drugs. Many patients experience relief from their symptoms and tolerate these medications well, but others find that they are not sufficient or cause serious side effects. For these patients, Botox injections may be an effective treatment.
Botox is made from a toxin produced by the same bacteria that causes botulism. However, Botox is safe, effective and approved by the FDA for the treatment of migraines. Botox was originally used in the treatment of eye muscle disorders, and has since been prescribed for a number of medical conditions. It is believed to alleviate migraines by blocking neurotransmitters that signal pain in the body.
During the treatment, patients are administered 31 injections in seven muscle groups in the head, neck and shoulders. There may be some mild discomfort, but most migraine sufferers find that the results are well worth the minimal discomfort caused by injections. Treatments must be repeated every three months and, unlike many medications that build resistance over time, Botox often becomes more effective the longer it is used.
Clinical trials show that Botox injections reduce headaches by 7-9 days per month. In practice, the results are even better, with many patients experiencing at least a 50 percent reduction in migraine frequency. When headaches do occur, they are usually less severe and more manageable.
Many migraine sufferers are unaware of the treatment options available to them, and may never seek medical care. For those suffering from the debilitating pain of migraines, Botox treatments might mean fewer and less severe headaches and improved quality of life.