Neurology

Botox for Migraines: How it Works & What to Expect

While most people associate Botox with its ability to smooth out facial wrinkles, it’s also been approved to work as a powerful treatment for migraines. 

Migraines affect about 10% of people around the world and are about three times more common in women than men. Chronic migraines, which are defined as migraine episodes that occur more than 15 days out of any given month, affect about 1% of people.

Chronic migraines can greatly impact daily life due to the pain and other symptoms they cause. Fortunately, Botox has been shown to be an effective treatment for reducing migraine-related pain. In one study, patients reported experiencing 50% fewer headache days while receiving Botox treatment.

To shine more light on this promising migraine treatment, Florida Medical Clinic neurologist Dr. Carrie Downey explains some of the benefits of Botox for migraines, and what patients can expect during a typical Botox treatment. 

How Botox Works for Migraines

Botox works by reducing muscle contractions and stopping  neurotransmitters from sending pain signals to your brain. This can help reduce the pain caused by migraines and lets many patients enjoy daily life without interruption.

The effect is only temporary, so patients will need to receive ongoing treatment. The most common treatment timeline involves an injection every 12 weeks, or four times per year. It may take several weeks to experience migraine relief after an injection. Your doctor may adjust this timeline according to your individual needs.

What is Botox? Is it safe?

Botox is created from botulinum toxin. While the idea of being injected with a toxin may sound scary, Botox actually contains such a miniscule amount of toxin that there is little chance of dangerous side effects. Since 2010, the FDA has recognized Botox as a safe treatment for migraines when administered by a licensed medical professional.

Who qualifies for treatment?

Dr. Downey says that not everyone who struggles with migraines may be eligible to receive Botox treatments. Botox is only recommended for people who fit the following criteria for chronic migraines:

  • Experience headaches for more than 15 days a month where at least 8 days involve migraines that last at least 4 hours each
  • Struggle with the above for at least 3 months
  • Are at least 18 years old

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend you try other medications or treatments before trying Botox.

What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine?

Botox is an approved treatment for those who struggle with headaches for more than 15 days per month and experience migraines for at least 8 of those days. But what’s the difference between a headache and a migraine?

Headaches can cause pain in different parts of the head according to their cause.

  • Some headaches may be caused by physical or psychological stress (tension headaches)
  • Others are caused by sinus pressure (sinus headaches)
  • Cluster headaches refer to particularly intense headaches that tend to happen around the same time each day

On the other hand, migraines often involve other symptoms aside from head pain. They may include dizziness, nausea, sensitivity to light or sound, as well as severe fatigue (tiredness). Migraines may occur in different phases, which may involve symptoms and signs like blurred vision, mood disturbances, and trouble with speech.

What to Expect During the Procedure

Botox appointments are very quick and can be done right in your doctor’s office in about 15-30 minutes. You don’t need to do anything to prepare, but your doctor may ask you to stop taking certain medications a few days prior to the injection. You should also inform your doctor if you’ve had a Botox injection in the past four months, even if it wasn’t an injection for migraines.

During your appointment, your doctor may numb your skin with a topical anesthetic. You may receive several shots during the procedure in the areas on your head and neck where you feel pain. The shots may feel like a slight pinch. 

After the procedure, you’re welcome to go home immediately. It’s safe to drive yourself home, but you may want to bring someone along just in case.

Note: Injections should ONLY be given by a licensed health care provider who has been trained to administer Botox for migraine treatment. There is a high risk for complications when injections are performed by unlicensed or untrained individuals.

Side Effects of Botox for Migraines

Side effects are generally mild and will typically go away within a day or two. They may include:

  • Headaches or sore neck
  • Pain, swelling, or redness at the injection site
  • Drooping eyelids or eyebrows
  • Temporarily blurred vision
  • Dry eyes or excessive tearing

Your doctor will discuss these side effects with you during your appointment, including what over-the-counter medications you can take to ease the discomfort.

More serious side effects are rare, but possible in patients with muscle or nerve conditions or breathing-related problems. For this reason, it’s important to see a board-licensed neurologist so that they can determine if Botox is a safe migraine treatment for you.

Schedule an Appointment Today

If you suffer from chronic migraines and haven’t found relief with other medications, Botox may be able to help you find relief. To learn more, schedule an appointment with neurologist Dr. Carrie Downey today.

Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always talk with your doctor before starting or stopping medications.

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Neurology

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