Most people are familiar with the cosmetic uses of Botox®, Dysport®, Xeomin® and other forms of injectable botulinum toxin.
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But this drug is good for more than just paralyzing the muscles that cause wrinkles. It can also be used to treat a range of conditions – from serious pain disorders to less serious medical issues.
Uses for botulinum toxin
Medical uses for botulinum toxin include:
- Migraine headache. Neurologist Mark Stillman, MD, says that migraine sufferers are among those most likely to benefit from botulinum toxin injections. “The FDA approved botulinum toxin for the treatment of chronic migraines on October 15, 2010 after receiving and reviewing two large multicenter trials,” he says. Chronic migraine is defined as a migraine lasting 15 or more days a month, for more than three months. Generally, migraines last anywhere from four hours to three days. Botulinum toxin is injected into the temples, forehead, neck and shoulders, preventing pain signals from reaching nerve endings.
- Neuralgia. “Pain from any neuralgia-type condition might find relief with botulinum toxin injections,” Dr. Stillman says. Neuralgia is a intense, shooting pain along a nerve pathway that comes as a result of nerve damage or dysfunction. It can happen off and on, or it can be constant. It can follow a complication of shingles known as postherpetic neuralgia, as well as trigeminal neuralgia, a painful disorder of the face’s sensory nerves. Occipital neuralgia, which has symptoms similar to migraine headache, can also be treated with injections of botulinum toxin.
- Spasticity (involuntary muscle tightening). Injected botulinum toxin can reduce spasticity, or involuntary tightening of the muscles caused by traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, stroke, or spinal cord injury. “It’s not just a cosmetic benefit,” says Dr. Stillman. “This drug can eliminate much of the pain for variable periods of time.”
- Excessive sweating. Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, is treated with botulinum toxin injections in the problem area, be it the underarms, feet, or palms of the hands. The toxin blocks the chemical signals from the nerves that stimulate the sweat glands in the treated area.
- Overactive bladder. People who struggle with overactive bladder or urinary incontinence can find relief with botulinum toxin injections into the wall of the bladder. It reduces the sudden intense urge to urinate during the day, and allows them to sleep through the night.
- Eye twitching. When an uncontrollable eyelid twitch won’t go away, an injection of botulinum toxin can stop the twitch for several months.
- Teeth grinding. Excessive grinding of the teeth can lead to tooth damage and pain. By weakening the muscle that causes grinding, injections of botulinum toxin can relieve the pressure on the teeth and reduce the risk of damage.
Risks and side effects
While botulinum toxin can offer many benefits, it’s important to work with an experienced doctor to see if it’s an appropriate treatment for you. As with any drug, there are possible risks and side effects, the most common being swelling or bruising at the injection site, headache or flu-like symptoms. Talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you have.