Botox a Boon for Some Headaches, Dud for Others


Research showing the wrinkle-buster Botox helps treat chronic migraines may be good news for some headache sufferers - but it turns out that if you suffer from some other type of headache, you may be better off reaching for another remedy.

A new review of research published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrated that botulinum toxin A - which is best known by the brand name Botox - can benefit patients who have chronic migraines, but it does not help those who have episodic migraines or chronic tension-type headaches.

But even for migraine sufferers, it may not be a magic bullet.

"Botox works for some [migraine] patients, and when it works, it works dramatically well," Dr. Joel Saper, director of the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute in Ann Arbor, told ABC News. "It does not work for all patients, and it's very difficult to predict who it will work for.

"Remember, this is group data so some patients will have a dramatic benefit and some have no benefit.  Some people will declare [Botox] as a miracle and some people will call it a dud."

Allergan, the makers of Botox, released a statement to ABC News following the publication of the review.

"These clinically relevant outcomes are further bolstered by real-world patient experience where treatment with Botox has resulted in headache free days and headache free hours, significantly decreasing the burden of the condition on their day-to-day lives," the statement reads.

Migraine headaches can cause intense throbbing or pulsing in the head and is commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Chronic migraine patients are those who experience more than 15 migraines a month, while episodic migraine sufferers have fewer than 15 migraines a month.

By contrast, tension-type headaches are actually the most common type of headache, and patients who experience them more than 15 times a month are said to suffer from chronic tension headaches. They are usually described as a diffuse, mild to moderate pain that's often described as feeling like a tight band around the sufferer's head. According to the new review, all that these patients may get from Botox are fewer wrinkles.

The finding that episodic migraines and chronic tension type headaches had no benefit with Botox highlights the importance of having an accurate diagnosis for the type of headache.

Chronic migraines affect approximately 6 million people in the United States, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. These headaches may lead to a variety of other effects, including missed work days and frequent emergency room visits.

Plastic surgeons first found that Botox could help tame migraines when patients treated cosmetically with Botox noticed that their migraines had improved.