Botox, the anti-wrinkle treatment based on the lethal paralysing drug botulinum toxin, is expected to be recommended for the treatment of chronic migraine on the health service next month by the NHS drugs watchdog.
Migraine affects an estimated six million people in Britain – 15 per cent of the adult population – but only a small proportion who have headaches on at least 15 days a month, eight of which are migraines, will qualify for the treatment. The drug works by paralysing tiny muscles in the head and neck when injected under the skin. The effect is to smooth out frown lines and wrinkles but has also been shown to ease the pain of chronic migraine sufferers.
In a draft of its final guidance to the NHS, published today, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends the treatment for sufferers who have already tried three preventive drugs without success. If no appeals are received against its guidance, Nice expects to issue it to the NHS in June. Primary care trusts will then have three months to allocate funds for the drug.
An estimated 1.6 per cent of the population suffer from chronic migraines which can be extremely debilitating, preventing sufferers from leading a normal life.
Migraines affect the young more than the old and are more common in women. They are caused by an "oversensitive" brain which reacts to triggers such as fatigue, hunger, stress or the weather. Migraines impose a huge drain on the economy as a result of sickness absence.
Dr Fayyaz Ahmed, chair of the British Association for the Study of Headache, said: "The headache experts with first-hand experience in treating chronic migraine know how debilitating the condition can be for some patients, and Botox can be a life-changing treatment."
Botox, made by Allergan, was licensed as a treatment for chronic migraine in 2010. It is given as tiny injections under the skin in between 31 and 39 sites around the head and neck. One course costs £350 and courses can be repeated every three months.