Q & A Library
New Uses for Botox?
I thought Botox was for smoothing skin, but I keep hearing about other uses. Does it really cure migraines and relieve bladder problems? How safe is it?
Answer (Published 7/10/2006)
Shots of the toxin sold under the brand-name Botox are widely used to smooth out facial lines such as forehead furrows, frown lines and crow's feet. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons some 3.8 million Botox procedures were performed in the United States in 2005.
Botox is made from botulinum toxin A, a bacterial toxin that, in high doses, can cause potentially fatal illness. However, the tiny amounts injected into the skin blocks the local release of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter needed for muscle function. The effect is to paralyze the facial muscles that over time create lines. As a result, you won't be able to squint, frown or raise your eyebrows as long as the effect lasts, usually about four months. Then, if you liked the results, you'll have to have the procedure repeated.
In addition to its cosmetic uses, Botox has been approved by the FDA for treatment of the following medical conditions:
In addition to these conditions Botox appears to provide short-term relief for some patients with migraine headache, overactive bladder and tennis elbow and is being studied for symptomatic relief of other disorders ranging from cerebral palsy to arthritis and stroke.
Bear in mind that while health insurance probably will cover the cost of FDA-approved Botox treatment for medical problems, it won't reimburse for cosmetic procedures or experimental approaches for medical conditions.
Like many treatments, Botox isn't 100 percent safe, so be sure to assess benefits and risks with your doctor. If you're interested in Botox injections for cosmetic purposes, I urge you to find a qualified plastic surgeon or dermatologist who has a positive track record of performing the procedures. Improperly used Botox injections can lead to serious health problems, severe facial paralysis, deformity and, in the wrong hands, death.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
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