February 25, 2011 at 10:33 am , by Amelia Harnish
I’ve never had a migraine before, but I know plenty of women who get them regularly. And they’re just awful, aren’t they? Skull-crushing pain and nausea that’s aggravated by light and noise—I definitely owe someone, somewhere, a thank-you card for sparing me that. Sadly, I really am pretty lucky: 20 percent of all women, and 40 percent of women by age 40, suffer from migraines. What’s more, many women experience chronic migraines, which means that they get a migraine at least 15 days out of the month.
That’s where the famous wrinkle-reliever Botox comes in, says Peter McAllister, M.D., a Yale University neurologist and headache specialist. The FDA recently approved Botox for treating chronic migraines, an announcement we briefly covered in our March issue. We met with Dr. McAllister yesterday to learn more about it.
“It was really an accidental discovery,” he says. When women who got Botox for their frown lines reported headache relief as well, Allergan, the company that manufactures Botox, created two double-blind, placebo-controlled trials to test Botox as a preventive treatment for chronic migraines. While both the placebo patients and the Botox patients had fewer “headache days,” as they call them, the Botox patients had significantly better results. Now with FDA approval of Botox for chronic migraines, it’s likely that your insurance will cover it.
So how does it work? Well, it’s still unclear (it turns out experts aren’t even sure exactly how migraines work). “We know the migraine process is internal, but the nerves affected are actually outside near the skin,” says Dr. McAllister. And the theory is that the Botox may block the pain signals to the brain, which decreases the frequency of your migraines. “It doesn’t work for everybody,” he says, “but if you respond to it, the effects can last up to three months.”
If you’ve been really suffering and want to learn more about this, Dr. McAllister recommends seeing a neurologist who can look at your overall health and lifestyle to help you identify your triggers and prescribe medications that can work in tandem with the Botox. Migraines can be triggered by hormones, alcohol, caffeine, certain foods and stress, among other things.
And I know you’re wondering. No, Botox for your chronic migraines probably won’t help your wrinkles—it’s a higher dose and injected in different locations. In the trials, it didn’t seem to have a positive or negative cosmetic impact, said Dr. McAllister. Too bad you can’t look younger and feel better at the same time!