Botulinum toxin (BTX), more commonly known as Botox, is a chemical toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. BTX is the toxin responsible for botulism, a serious illness usually associated with food poisoning. Botulism can result in muscle paralysis and can be fatal.
Botox works by preventing the release of acetylcholine in the body. Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter found at the site where nerve endings and muscles meet. Blocking nerve signals from travelling to the muscle results in muscle weakness. The muscle will become less able to contract, or tighten, and begins to relax.
Although Botox has some potentially harmful effects, doctors have been using it in small doses to treat various health problems. Botox can be directly injected into muscles in small amounts. Injecting the muscle allows doctors to control how it relaxes. Botox is often associated with cosmetic uses such as treatment of wrinkles, lines, or creases. However, recent research has found new Botox uses that are less well known.
Here, we will discuss five surprising health-related Botox uses.
1. Reduce chronic pain
Chronic pain is a common condition that is difficult to treat. Patients with chronic pain often experience a lower quality of life. Medications used to treat chronic pain such as opioids, codeine, and morphine often have serious side effects. Some research has shown that Botox may help reduce chronic pain.
In a recent study in Science Translational Medicine, researchers used synthetic forms of BTX to treat chronic pain in mice. The team designed synthetic BTX that specifically targets neurons involved in pain signalling. They tested the compound on both nerve and inflammatory pain. After receiving BTX injections, the mice were less sensitive to pain for a period of up to three weeks. Treatment of the mice did not adversely affect coordination, and only acted on neurons involved in pain signalling; other types of neurons were not affected by the injection. The synthetic BTX treated chronic pain as effectively as morphine but had longer lasting positive effects.
Though BTX had a positive effect on chronic pain in mice, clinical trials are needed to determine how BTX will affect human patients. Humans may respond differently to treatments than other animals. However, the study provides insight into possible ways to target pain when developing new therapies.
2. Relieve jaw pain
The temporomandibular joints (TMJs) are located on each side of the jaw. TMJs allow the jaw to open and slide in various directions. They are used for many common gestures including chewing, talking, and facial expressions, making them susceptible to stress. TMJ disorder arises when patients experience dysfunction with these joints and is characterized by significant pain. Some cases of severe TMJ disorder are not effectively treated with conventional drug therapies.
Research published in the Journal of Stomatology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery describes the uses of Botox for treating severe TMJ disorder. The study included 77 participants with TMJ disorder. Participants had TMJ disorder for at least one year and did not respond to conventional treatments. Botox injections of 30 units were given to each patient in the muscle surrounding the TMJs. The results of the study showed that Botox significantly lowered jaw pain within 15 days of injection. Effects of the treatment lasted for three months. Participants of the study did not experience any major complications.
The authors conclude that using Botox to treat TMJ disorder is both safe and effective. This treatment is particularly helpful for patients who have not responded to other treatments. Further clinical trials are needed to confirm study results.
3. Treat skin inflammation
Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that can be complicated to treat. Symptoms of eczema include severe itching sensations. Itching the affected area may worsen symptoms and lead to swollen and irritated skin. If eczema does not improve on its own, patients are treated with a combination of steroids, creams, and other therapies to relieve recurrent inflammation and prevent infection. However, current treatments may not be effective in all patients.
A group of researchers in South Korea has been studying how Botox can be used to treat symptoms of eczema. Their article in Dermatologic Surgery details the uses of Botox for eczema-like lesions in mice. Mice that received injections to the affected sites had a significant reduction of inflammation and swelling.
Results of the study show that Botox might effectively treat eczema, though data from the study was limited to a 14-day period. Larger clinical trials are needed to confirm whether or not Botox will be an effective treatment for human patients with eczema. Botox will likely be used in combination with other therapies for eczema since the cost of repeated injections is high.
4. Alleviate calf cramping
Nocturnal calf cramps result from involuntary contractions in the lower leg muscles. The cramps are usually short-lived. Some patients suffer from prolonged cramping, which can be distressing and impact sleep quality. Patients with lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS), a disorder characterized by a narrowing spinal column, are particularly susceptible to nocturnal calf cramps.
A study published in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation describes how BTX has been used to treat nocturnal calf cramps. In the study, researchers divided 50 LSS patients with regular nighttime nocturnal calf cramps into two groups. Each group received conventional therapies including exercise, physical therapy, and pain medication. One group received BTX injections, and the other was given an anticonvulsant as a control. Patients that were given BTX experienced a lower frequency and severity of nocturnal calf cramps compared to the control group; sleep quality also improved in these patients.
The study concluded that BTX can be useful for relieving nocturnal calf cramps in combination with other therapies. Benefits of the BTX injection lasted up to three months in study participants. This treatment provides an effective alternative to conventional medication used to treat nocturnal calf cramps. However, the study had a small number of participants and did not include a placebo group. Further clinical trials are needed to confirm the safety and efficacy of the treatment.
5. Prevent chronic migraines
A migraine is a severe and often debilitating headache. Migraines are usually made worse by physical activity. People with migraines may also suffer from sensitivity to light and sound. Current treatment options for migraines include medications that may only be partly effective and can have serious side effects.
In a study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Mayo Clinic researchers looked at the uses of Botox for treating migraine headaches. The study focused on clinical trials from randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. They assessed efficacy in each of two groups: episodic migraine and chronic migraine. Patients with episodic migraines have headaches less than 15 days each month, while those with chronic migraines have headaches at least 15 days each month with a minimum of eight being migraine headaches. Some studies showed that Botox provided relief for episodic migraine, but the overall data was not convincing. However, Botox was effective for preventing chronic migraine headaches.
Botox was well tolerated in study participants with minimal side effects. This treatment offers a viable option for patients who are unable to tolerate the side effects of conventional medication for a chronic migraine. Researchers are optimistic about the uses of Botox for this distressing condition.
Many health-related uses of Botox are currently being explored. Emerging clinical studies will help identify how this toxin can be used for a number of medical conditions.
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- Park SJ, Yoon KB, Yoon DM, Kim SH. Botulinum toxin treatment for nocturnal calf cramps in patients with lumbar spinal stenosis: a randomized clinical trial. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2017 May; 98(5):957-963.
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