Botox a cure for migraines?

October 27, 2010 4:51:28 PM PDT
For a decade, people who have to hide in the dark with their migraine headaches could choose strong drugs or Botox shots for relief. But the Botox was being used "off-label." Now it's official. The FDA approved Botox for migraines last week. But not just anyone can get.

Nancy Spitler describes her life with migraines.

"Your head feels like it's literally in a vice being crushed," she said.

And headaches like this slow life down for some 30 million Americans.

"I could be in bed for two, three days from the paralyzing pain of the migraines," Spitler said. "My life just shut down."

But three years ago, Spitler began getting Botox shots for her headaches.

"I've been very lucky; when I get my Botox, I don't have any migraines," she said.

Patients get 31 Botox shots in the muscles of the forehead, temples and neck.

"I'm feeling the tight muscles, and I'm going right into those muscles," said Dr. Payman Sadeghi of Memorial Hermann Hospital-Memorial City.

Botox works by temporarily paralyzing the muscles so they can't constrict and cause pain.

Spitler's relief lasts about three months. But when she spells relief, it adds up to 120 shots and $3,200 a year, because it's not covered by her insurance.

Last week, based on results of two studies, the FDA approved Botox to prevent migraines.

"Insurance is not paying yet, and I'm just hoping that eventually, insurance will pick up the cost of the treatment," Spitler said.

Yes, it's the same Botox used for wrinkles, but the FDA approved it only for people with 15 or more migraines a month. And there can be side effects.

"If the Botox leaks a little bit under the skin and gets to some nerves that we don't want to, you may get droopy eyes or your neck may get a little weak," Dr. Sadeghi said.

But compared to strong migraine drugs, the side effects are pretty mild. And of course there's the biggest Botox side effect: fewer wrinkles.

Spitler began taking Botox shots three years ago at the urging of her father. He's 85 and has been taking Botox shots for his migraines and thought it would work for his daughter.


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