Why botox for migraines is a recommended treatment on the NHS

Migraines are a debilitating headache disorder, often felt as a pain on one side of the head with, in some cases, associated symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.

More women (1 in 5) than men (1 in 15) suffer from migraines, according to figures cited by the NHS, which is thought to be because of the changing levels of oestrogen that are produced by women. This in turn, causes the cells and nerve endings in the head and blood vessels in the brain to become more susceptible to a migraine’s common triggers, such as certain food groups.

While there is no cure for migraines, there are a number of potential treatments for that could help to ease symptoms. This includes lifestyle changes, over the counter painkillers, the application of cold compresses, hormonal treatments, acupuncture and finally botox injections.

Botulinum toxin type A injections – a treatment designed to relax stiff muscles – were recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – an executive non-departmental public body of the Department of Health in the United Kingdom – for the treatment of migraines in 2012.

Botox for migraines: how does it work?

Health specialist Morgan Davies at the health and dispensary brand PureOptical, explains exactly how they work.

He says, “Many patients assume that the Botox used for cosmetic procedures differs from that used for treating migraine. Botox is Botox and the product used both cosmetically and medically is identical. The main difference is in the actual procedure and the number of shots used. There is often more shots given when treating migraines and if you experience more pain in a particular area, then more shots will be used in that region.

“Botox treats migraines as the toxin used relaxes the muscles, however, this is only part of it. Botox stops neurotransmitters, a chemical that acts as a messenger to transmit signals to the brain and flag that the body is in pain. Botox stops the neurotransmitters before they reach the nerve endings of both the head and neck. It is for this reason that many patients report that their migraines last for a shorter amount of time post treatment and are not as painful.”

On a practical level NICE recommends that Botulinum toxin type A injections should be applied to between 31 and 39 sites around the head and back of the neck, with a new course of treatment possible every 12 weeks.

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Am I eligible for botox injections for migraines on the NHS?

In order to be eligible for botox injections for migraines on the NHS you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Must have had headaches for 15 or more days each month, with migraine headaches on a minimum of 8 of these days
  • Must have tried at least three prescribed preventative medications for migraines before being prescribed botox injections

Botox for migraines side effects – what are they?

Although not everyone will experience side effects as a result of this treatment, common side effects – which occur in less than one out of 10 people but more than one out of 100 people – include the following:

  • Worsening headache or migraine or both
  • Rash, itching
  • Pain where the injection was given
  • Drooping of the eyelid
  • Muscle weakness
  • Neck pain, muscle pain, cramp
  • Muscle stiffness, tightness

Uncommon side effects – which occur in less than one out of 100 people and more than one out of 1,000 – include the following:

  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Skin pain
  • Jaw pain
  • Swollen eyelid

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