Anti-wrinkle treatment could hold cure for migraine attacks

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The Independent Online
BOTULISM TOXIN, which causes food poisoning but is also used in cosmetic surgery to reduce wrinkles, has emerged as a successful treatment for migraine sufferers, according to a new study.

New research has shown that half of the cosmetic surgery patients who received facial injections of the botulinum toxin type A, known as Botox, made a complete recovery from migraines while another third enjoyed a partial improvement.

More than six million people in Britain suffer from migraine headaches characterised by severe head pain, nausea and visual or light sensitivity problems. In severe cases sufferers can have slurred speech and temporary paralysis. The condition is three times more common in women and it is estimated to cost businesses over pounds 600m a year in sick days and reduced productivity.

"The findings show that Botox is a safe, effective and therapeutic agent for the treatment of migraine," said Dr William Binder, a plastic surgeon from Los Angeles and co-author of the study which was presented to the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery conference this week.

The research began after Dr Binder discovered that a number of patients he was treating for deep forehead wrinkles with injections of Botox reported that their migraine headaches had stopped or lessened since starting the injections.

Dr Binder, with three other doctors from New York and San Francisco, conducted a formal study with 100 patients. These were classified into three groups: those who definitely suffered from true migraines, those who had possible migraines, and those who did not.

Botox was injected into their foreheads and necks. Several months later, half the patients reported that their migraine headaches had completely disappeared.

A further 37 per cent reported that they were suffering migraines half as often, or that the severity of their migraines was halved. The only adverse effect was temporary local pain caused by the injections and slight bruising.

Patients who were completely cured by the Botox injections reported that their symptoms had disappeared after four months.

Of 13 patients who reported acute migraine, eight experienced a complete benefit within one or two hours.

"Previous research has shown that injections of botulinum toxin A can reduce tension type headaches by relaxing muscles," said Cathy Fernandes, education officer of the Migraine Trust, based in London. "However tension is not the principal cause of migraine. So it is surprising that the Botox had such an effect. It is too early to say whether this could be a cure for migraine but we would not discount it," she said.

Botox injections have been used by eye surgeons and neurologists to treat lazy eye, eye spasms and other neurological disorders since 1980. However, botulism is a paralysing nerve and muscle disease that can be fatal. It is caused by bacterium sometimes found in canned food.

Monthly injections of botulism toxin into vocal cords has helped people with neurological problems that ruin their voice.

Further research is looking at other possible medical applications for the Botox injection. Doctors believe that cerebral palsy, excessive perspiration and some kinds of lower back pain could be improved with regular injections.

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