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Botox and Cluster Headache, A New Wrinkle

Botox and cluster headache

Botox is best known as a facial wrinkle remover, but if all goes well with the research, someday soon it may be a treatment option for cluster headache. At least that is the hope of a team of scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Read more about Botox

Why Botox?
Botox (onabotulinumtoxinA) is a neurotoxin and a drug that uses a potent poison called botulinum toxin, which is derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. When it is injected into facial muscles, it paralyzes them temporarily and causes wrinkles to disappear for several months.

Read about a new cluster headache treatment

Similarly, injections of the toxin are used to block nerve signals that cause muscles contractions in cerebral palsy and bladder spasms, to block postsurgical pain and foot pain, and to temporarily relax eye muscles in people with strabismus (misaligned eyes). Botox also is sometimes used to treat migraine.

Cluster headache and Botox
Cluster headache pain is more severe than migraine pain and can drive patients to perform desperate acts, even suicide, to avoid it. Therefore finding effective treatments for this devastating condition, which affects an estimated 53 people per 100,000 per year, is essential.

That’s why Erling Tronvik, NTNU senior consultant and researcher, along with two colleagues, are about to undertake a study of the impact of Botox on cluster headache sufferers. This team has devised a treatment device that will allow them to shoot Botox through a hole in the nasal wall into a nerve bundle located behind the sinuses.

Clinicians will use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to accurately identify the location of the nerve bundle in each patient before treatment is initiated. According to Tronvik, this unique approach should (in theory) reduce or eliminate the flow of signals in this area for three to eight months, after which time patients would need to get another treatment.

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“We designed the equipment ourselves, and Botox has never been used for this anywhere else,” noted Tronvik. Soon, 10 patients will enter the first pilot study of this treatment method.

If the results of the pilot study are positive, the team plans to enroll 30 to 40 patients who suffer with cluster headache and about 80 migraineurs as well.

Are there any side effects? Tronvik explained that use of MRI is a highly accurate way to locate the exact spot to inject the Botox. However, he also noted that if the toxin were to slightly miss the mark, patients could experience a weakened ability to chew or temporary double vision.

Read about greater occipital nerve blocks

In the meantime, there’s some good news regarding chronic migraine. Botox has been shown to be helpful in relieving chronic migraine, as seen in the results of the PREEMPT (Research Evaluating Migraine Prophylaxis Therapy) clinical program.

In that study, nearly 70 percent of patients treated with Botox experienced at least a 50 percent reduction in the frequency of headache days. Other research has shown Botox to be effective as preventive treatment for chronic migraine and to provide a reduction in severity and intensity of pain as well as the number of days with disability.

If you suffer with cluster headache, a new effective treatment can’t come soon enough. Hopefully Botox or another option in the pipeline will prove beneficial in the near future.

Study References
Alvaro-Gonzalez LC et al. Botulinum toxin A in chronic refractory migraine: premarketing experience. Revista de Neurologia 2012 Oct 1; 55(7): 385-91
Aurora SK et al. OnabotulinumtoxinA for chronic migraine: efficacy, safety, and tolerability in patients who received all five treatment cycles in the PREEMPT clinical program. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica 2014 Jan; 129(1): 61-70

Image: Morguefile