Treatment for Migraine Headaches Comes with Positive Side Effect

Neurologists at The Nebraska Medical Center Use Botox to Treat Chronic Migraines


The headaches bothered Tina Bracha for years. The medication helped, but it was not until she started working in the front office of Neurology Consultants of Nebraska that she found out there was another treatment: Botox injections.


“At first I thought, ‘there’s no way this works,’” Bracha recalled. “But it’s been a life-changing thing for me. I don’t have headaches every day anymore. I can go outside on these sunny days; I couldn’t do that before.”

Dr. Santamaria gives Tina Bracha her Quarterly Botox injection Nebraska Medical Center neurologist Pam Santamaria, MD gives Bracha Botox injections once every three months. Each treatment involves 33 shots given in the forehead, temples and back of the neck.


“I’ve seen it in the clinic and the research bears it out; about 50% of people who don’t get significant benefit from the oral medicine will get some benefit from Botox,” said Dr. Santamaria. “It either takes the symptoms away completely, or there’s some reduction in symptoms.”


Botox was approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a migraine treatment in October of 2010. Since then, the number of people seeking the treatment has steadily increased in Dr. Santamaria’s clinic.


“Many patients don’t realize that Botox is a treatment for migraines,” she said. “Most people associate it with cosmetic procedures.”


Botox gained popularity as a cosmetic treatment in when it was approved in 2002. That same cosmetic benefit is a side effect of using Botox to treat migraines.


“My kids and husband joke with me,” Bracha said. “I have no forehead wrinkles. It’s an added benefit, but not having migraines outweighs that.  I’d take the wrinkles over the headaches any day.”


Because of the Botox treatments, Bracha has neither.


Dr. Santamaria believes migraines are under-treated in the U.S. An estimated 12% of the population deals with migraines and she believes many of those people are simply unaware that treatments exist.


“Migraines are more common than diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease,” Dr. Santamaria said.


“Migraines are more common in women than men, and occur more in the United States than in other countries.”


Not all bad headaches are migraines, Dr. Santamaria said. There is a specific definition that accompanies a migraine diagnosis.


“A migraine is unilateral, meaning it’s on one side of the head,” she explained. “It’s a throbbing, pounding pain that often causes people to have nausea, motion sickness and sensitivity to light.”


Those were all symptoms Bracha experienced regularly before her regular Botox treatments.


“When the headaches were really bad I’d miss doing things with my kids,” she said. “I had a very hard time just getting out of the house.”


Botox works by blocking communication between nerves and muscles, which keeps muscles from contracting. When it is injected in a patient’s head, it blocks pain receptors the same way it keeps muscles and nerves from communicating.


Doctors initially discovered the Botox effect on migraines while using it to treat a condition called cervical dystonia. Many who suffer from that condition also struggle with migraines. Patients taking Botox began noticing an improvement of their head ache symptoms. Several years of study followed before the FDA approval came.


“There is really no reason why, if a person is having chronic migraines, not to try Botox as a treatment,” said Dr. Santamaria. “It may really help.”

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