Botox. It’s a word that brings to mind smooth foreheads, beautiful smiles, and youthful-looking patients—men and women alike. But there’s more to Botox than meets the eye.
Botox was originally designed for muscle spasms,” says Ivona Percec, MD, PhD, a physician and Associate Director of Cosmetic Surgery at Penn Medicine. “One of the first applications was to calm eyelid spasms. Then, it was applied to cosmetics afterward.”
Botox is made from a toxin created by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. It works in essentially the same way, no matter where it’s being injected: It blocks nerve endings from absorbing certain molecules that they need in order to function properly.
This means that the nerve endings controlling certain muscles are no longer able to ‘fire’ signals, so the muscles can’t move,” says Dr. Percec.
Botox temporarily immobilizes muscles—either partially or completely, depending on the injection location and dosage. And that makes it useful for a number of medical issues.
Four Medical Uses of Botox
Botox has many medical uses that most people probably aren’t aware of. Here are 4 that might surprise you.
Over 10% of people across the globe suffer from migraines. Anyone who has ever had one of these sometimes debilitating headaches can attest to the fact that finding the right treatment can give them a new lease on life.
Botox received approval from the US Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) to treat chronic migraines back in 2010. According to the FDA, injections can be given about once every 3 months.
Botox is thought to help with chronic migraines by preventing nerve signals that would normally cause these headaches from firing in the first place.
Overactive bladder occurs when nerve signals tell a person’s body that the bladder is full when it isn’t. About 33 million people suffer from this condition each year.
In 2013, Botox received FDA approval to treat this disorder, which works by preventing the muscles in your bladder from “squeezing” so much. These muscles are responsible for that frequent “got to go” feeling.
As with migraines, Botox injections for overactive bladder should be spaced about 3 months apart.
Certain neurological disorders can cause facial asymmetry, explains Dr. Percec. For instance, there’s Bell’s palsy —a sudden “drooping” of one side of your face. It’s thought that nerve damage causes a sudden paralysis or weakness in the facial muscles when this happens.
Even after most symptoms have disappeared, one side of the face might feel more “slack” than the other. “Botox can be used to restore symmetry after a facial trauma like that,” says Dr. Percec.
This is accomplished by treating the unaffected side of the face with Botox to soften its animation to match the weaker affected side.
Bet you never knew this: Botox can be used before surgery to help with scar healing afterward.
“In an area like the forehead, where there’s usually lots of muscle movement, we might use Botox before the procedure to ‘quiet’ the area during the healing process,” explains Dr. Percec. The stillness prevents the skin from stretching or moving too much, which can reduce scarring.
What To Know About Botox Injections
For chronic health issues—like migraines or overactive bladder—Botox is typically not a one-time cure. But on the other hand, it can be a much longer-lasting treatment compared to medications that have to be taken daily.
The effects of Botox injections can last up to 4 months, depending on the dose, according to Dr. Percec. But there’s a caveat: “Some conditions can’t be treated with a high dose, so treatment won’t last as long,” Dr. Percec explains. “Each treatment has to be dosed properly.”
For instance, muscle areas that should not be blocked completely—like the corners of the mouth, in cosmetic treatments—should receive smaller doses that might only last 4 to 6 weeks.
But patients with migraines receive a high-dose treatment. Why? The goal is to completely “shut down” the nerve endings involved in migraines. So, patients might be able to go 3 to 4 months between injections.
The Importance Of Expertise
Proper dosing and injection are critical, regardless of what Botox is being used to treat, Dr. Percec explains.
For example, the corners of the mouth have two muscles used in frowning that overlap with the muscles that lift the lips upward.
So, in the case of a patient with Bell’s Palsy who is looking to correct facial drooping on one side of her mouth, injecting Botox just a few millimeters off can make a huge difference. If the right muscle isn’t injected, she could end up unable to lift her lips until the Botox wears off.
To avoid serious risks, be sure to discuss your treatment options with a doctor who is well-versed in Botox injections.
To learn more or schedule an appointment with Penn Plastic Surgery, call 215-615-2581.