Doctors Weigh In on Using Botox to Treat Migraines

Doctors Weigh In on Using Botox to Treat MigrainesMigraines are a mysterious thing. Triggers and symptoms vary from person to person, and treatments that help one person might not work for another. But most patients would agree that migraine headaches can be debilitating.

Doctors have used the wrinkle-smoother Botox off-label to treat migraines for years. Now they can do so officially.

In October, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Botox for people who experience severe headaches for 15 or more days a month. That means the pharmaceutical company Allergen can begin marketing the drug as a migraine treatment. Most significantly for patients, Botox treatment—which can cost between $1,500 and $2,500 a session—is more likely to be covered by insurance.

Dr. Alexander Mauskop founded the New York Headache Center, which has offices in White Plains and Manhattan, and said he’s been using Botox to treat migraines for 15 years with great success.

“It’s an extremely effective treatment for migraines. Seventy percent of people respond to Botox treatment,” said Mauskop, who lives in Larchmont.

Judith Kiersky, a 63-year-old psychotherapist, began seeing Mauskop eight years ago seeking relief from the crushing headaches she struggled with for decades.

“My belief is that finding him and being able to have the Botox literally changed the trajectory of my life. I know that sounds extreme, but it’s true,” Kiersky said.

For many women, hormonal changes bring on migraines, and Kiersky began experiencing them when she hit puberty. Kiersky said that as a teenager she was so sensitive to light and noise, “I’d have to go to my bedroom and just go under the covers.”

As she got older, Kiersky said her symptoms just multiplied—tension led to severe neck and back pain, nausea and anxiety. “My life had become very restricted,” she said. “I got really phobic. There are so many things that are consequences of this.”

Kiersky tried several treatments, including drugs, biofeedback and meditation, with varying levels of success. Before seeing Mauskop, Kiersky said she thought Botox was only used cosmetically. In fact, smoothing wrinkles can be an added benefit if Botox is injected into the forehead during migraine treatment.

While Botox is primarily thought of as a wrinkle reducer, it’s also used to treat some spasm and muscle disorders and excessive sweating. Botox is a form of botulinum—one of the most toxic substances known to man—and works by blocking the connection between nerves and muscle, which temporarily paralyzes the muscle.

For some doctors, Botox treatment is seen as a last resort. As an osteopathic physician, Dr. Barbara Gordon-Cohen combines traditional medical practices with a hands-on therapy that focuses on manipulating the muscle and skeletal system. She also uses yoga, meditation, acupuncture, nutrition and other holistic practices to treat a variety of conditions – from cosmetic procedures and weight loss to migraine relief.

Cohen, who practices out of her home in Suffern, said she will first look at a person’s stress level and emotional well-being because repressed fear, anger or grief can lead to physical pain. “A big thing is lifestyle and making sure a person has their anxiety under control,” she said.

While she does use Botox frequently for cosmetic procedures, using it to treat migraines is “something to do if nothing else is working.”

For the estimated 3.2 million Americans who suffer from chronic migraines, Botox is just one more weapon in the arsenal of pain management.

Kiersky, a former New Yorker who now lives in New Mexico, she found something that works for her, and she travels back to New York twice a year to see Dr. Mauskop.

“You can’t put a price on pain,” she said.

For more information, visit the Migraine Research Foundation.

Writer: Jonann Brady

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Category: Skin Care

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