What You Need to Know About Migraine and Botox
We’ve all heard of Botox, responsible for generations of smooth foreheads in Hollywood. But Botox has also brought relief to many people who suffer from chronic medical conditions. In 2010, Botox was approved for use with chronic migraine, and many patients are reporting success. What do you need to know before considering it?
What Type of Headache Responds Best to Botox?
Botox is only FDA-approved for chronic migraines, which means headache on 15 or more days a month. “The more frequent the headaches, the better the patient does with Botox,” says Dr. Andrew Blumenfeld, Director, The Headache Center of Southern California. Botox is not recommended for patients who experience fewer than 15 headache days a month.
What is Botox?
Botox is a form of botulinum toxin, a neurotoxin produced by the bacteria that causes botulism. When the Botox botulinum toxin is purified and used in tiny doses in specific areas, it temporarily reduces muscle contractions for approximately 3 months.
How Does Botox Work?
Botox is injected around pain fibers that are involved in headaches. Botox enters the nerve endings around where it is injected and blocks the release of chemicals involved in pain transmission. This prevents activation of pain networks in the brain.
Botox prevents migraine headaches before they start, but takes time to work. “I look to the second and third treatments to maximize effects,” says Dr. Andrew Blumenfeld. “Patients see in
creasing benefit with an increase in the number of treatment cycles.” One treatment lasts for 10-12 weeks, and patients reported that two Botox treatments reduced the number of headache days by approximately 50%.
Who Uses Botox?
The FDA approves the use of Botox to treat chronic migraine in adults who are age 18 or over. Botox is considered an “off-label” treatment if it’s used for children or adolescents. This means that a doctor can prescribe it, but insurance companies might not pay for it.
Finding a Doctor Who Treats Migraine with Botox
If you want to try Botox for migraine, you should look for a headache specialist or neurologist. We recommend using your insurance’s doctor listing, Yelp, or the American Migraine Foundation’s doctor database.
Dr. Laura Banks, neurologist at Natividad Medical Center, suggests asking prospective doctors where they learned to give Botox, and how many times they’ve given it. “You’re looking for a lot of experience,” she says. Dr. Andrew Blumenfeld suggests asking doctors how many injections they will give, and where they will give them.
Getting Botox Treatment Paid for by Insurance
In general, the FDA-recommended dosage of 155 units costs between $300 to $600 for each treatment. Because Botox is FDA approved for chronic migraine, it’s covered by most plans, including Medicare and Medicaid. Allergan offers a “Botox Savings Card,” which offers patients reduced fees.
Please note that before your insurance company will approve Botox as a treatment for your chronic migraine, you typically must have tried and failed to respond to two other preventative treatments. These might include anti-seizure medications, antidepressants, or blood pressure medications that are typically used to prevent migraine.
What is Treatment Like?
When you receive your first Botox treatment, expect the appointment to take about 20 minutes. The doctor uses a very small needle that feels like a pinprick. He or she injects small amounts of Botox into shallow muscles in the skin. Each treatment typically involves 31 injections in seven key areas of the head and neck.
The most common side effect from the Botox shots is a sore neck, and we recommend using an ice pack to reduce the discomfort.
It can take up to six months to see the maximum benefit from Botox. In the meantime, you can continue your regular medications with no risk of a drug interaction.
Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundation’s subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. Click here to read about our editorial board members.