It is the anti-ageing cosmetic drug primarily used by the rich and famous for preventing wrinkles and paralysing facial muscles.
Botox has also been used to treat a number of ailments and researchers believe they have found yet another health benefit. The neurotoxic protein could also prevent the most common complication following bypass surgery - an irregular heartbeat.
Nerve signals that tell muscles to contract are blocked when a small amount of Botox is injected into a muscle and researchers say injecting it into fat surrounding the heart could prevent the condition. Also known as arrhythmia, it became well known after Tony Blair suffered from it while Prime Minister.
The most common serious abnormal heart rhythm is atrial fibrillation, or AF, where the heart is beating too fast or too slow. It can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
AF affects an estimated 1.5 million people across the UK and in excess of 16 million worldwide, according to the charity Arrythmia Alliance who say awareness and understanding of this chronic condition still remains low.
Dr Jonathan Steinberg, senior study author and Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester, said: “About a third of all patients undergoing bypass surgery will develop atrial fibrillation, putting them at higher risk for cardiovascular complications. Atrial fibrillation is also always associated with lengthened hospitalisation and that means increased healthcare costs.”
Researchers randomly assigned 60 patients in two Russian hospitals to receive Botox or saline injections. The injections were made in the four major fat pads surrounding the heart. Neither patients nor doctors knew whether the injections contained Botox or saline.
Among the findings were that scientists found that in the 30 days following surgery, those who received Botox injections during heart bypass surgery had a seven per cent chance of developing AF, compared to 30 per cent in patients who received saline.
One year after surgery, none of the patients who received Botox had AF, compared to 27 per cent of the patients who received saline – and no complications from the Botox injections were reported.
The study, published today in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, found that complications from the bypass surgery were similar in both groups, including time in intensive care and on a breathing machine, and infection rate.
The research team said larger studies must be carried out with the same conclusions before Botox injections are routinely used to prevent AF after bypass surgery. If confirmed in heart bypass patients, Botox injections could also help prevent AF in people undergoing valve repair or replacement. About half of those patients will develop AF after surgery.
Dr Steinberg said: “This first-in-man study has opened a whole new line of thinking and research. In the near future, botox injections may become the standard of care for heart bypass and valve patients, but we're not quite there yet.”
The Arrhythmia Alliance’s AF Aware Week takes place this year from Monday 23 November.
The charity say a simple pulse check is the easiest way to detect the irregular heart rhythm and that identifying and treating AF at an early stage will deliver significant health and cost benefits. One single AF-stroke costs the NHS almost £12,000 in the first year of medical care and £44,000 in social and community care.
Most recent research shows AF led to more than 850,000 GP visits, 575,000 hospital admissions and 5.7 million bed days in 2008, costing the NHS in excess of £1.8 billion.
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