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Not Just for Wrinkles: How Botox Can Help With Other Health Conditions

When you think of Botox injections, you probably think of cosmetic treatments. However, in fact, they were originally used to treat a medical condition—eye muscle spasms—and in 1987 a Canadian ophthalmologist discovered that along with finding relief from spasms, her patients’ forehead wrinkles were fading as well.

Since then, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Botox injections to help alleviate frown lines, crow’s feet and forehead wrinkles, and the treatments have become popular among people who want to slow the signs of aging. But they can also be used to relieve the symptoms of a range of health conditions.

Ayushi Chugh, MD, a neurologist with Banner Casa Grande Medical Center, said that Botox injections can also alleviate:

  • Chronic migraines
  • Neck, arm or leg spasms
  • Facial and eye twitching
  • Stiff or tight muscles caused by neurological conditions such as stroke or cerebral palsy
  • Excessive sweating
  • Excessive saliva production
  • Overactive bladder
  • Essential tremor
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Lazy eye

And, there are actually several drugs your doctor may use when treating these conditions:

  • Botox (Onambotulinum Toxin A)
  • Abobotulinumtoxin A (Dysport)
  • Rimabotulinumtoxin B (Myobloc)
  • Incobotulinumtoxin A (Xeomin)

These drugs work in a few ways. They relax the nerves that are compressed by a contracted muscle, improve blood flow and temporarily prevent muscles from moving. They can also relieve pain, since they act on the brain cells that transmit pain.

Here's what to discuss with your doctor 

Botox injections to treat medical conditions are generally safe, though you shouldn’t have them if you are allergic to cow’s milk. But before you go forward with the treatment, you will want to talk to your doctor about:

  • Alternative pain relievers or muscle relaxants you can consider—Dr. Chugh said it’s best to try these less-invasive options first.
  • The details of the procedure, including how many injections you’ll need and how often they will need to be repeated.
  • Medications you’re using to relax your muscles, help you sleep or thin your blood, since they could cause adverse interactions.
  • Any other Botox injections you’ve had within the past four months.
  • The appropriate use of injections if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Here are the possible side effects

“These injections are relatively safe when performed by an experienced doctor,” Dr. Chugh said. The most common side effects include:

  • Pain at the injection site
  • Mild bleeding
  • Bruising
  • Headache
  • Flu-like symptoms

In rare cases, the injections could cause slight or partial facial paralysis, eyelid drooping, crooked eyebrows or smile, drooling, eye dryness or excessive tearing. It's rare but also possible for the toxin to spread in your body and cause difficulty with vision, urination, speaking, swallowing or breathing.

Here’s what the procedure is like

Your doctor can administer Botox injections during a normal office visit. You’ll need several injections—your doctor can explain how many, exactly, depending on the health condition you’re treating. The needle used for these injections is small, but it’s normal to feel some stinging. You might notice small bumps at the injection sites, but they should disappear in a few minutes.

You may not see a change right away—it generally takes one to three days for the effects to kick in. And the effects are not permanent—they generally last about three months, and then you’ll need a repeat round of injections. “Regular follow-up with your doctor to guide injection therapy is important,” Dr. Chugh said.

Here’s what to know about insurance coverage

You may have heard that insurance doesn’t pay for Botox injections. For cosmetic procedures, that’s usually true—they are almost never covered. But if you need injections for a health condition and your doctor says they are medically necessary, insurance typically covers them. Of course, it’s a good idea to contact your insurance provider and get any treatments preauthorized before you proceed with them.

The bottom line

“Botox injections aren’t just used to relax facial wrinkles. They can help relieve the symptoms of many other medical conditions,” Dr. Chugh said. To find out if injections might be a good choice to help you manage a health condition, reach out to Banner Health to consult with a neurologist who can help you sort through the pros and cons.

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