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Health Team

Wrinkle-eraser helping migraine sufferers?

Posted November 22, 2010 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated November 22, 2010 8:24 p.m. EST

Millions of people suffer from chronic migraines every year, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just approved an unconventional treatment involving a medicine used to erase wrinkles.

Teresa Cantilli suffered with severe migraines for 18 years and sometimes couldn’t make it through the workday.

The 49-year-old tried medication after medication, but nothing helped. As a last resort, her doctor recommended an unconventional treatment – Botox.

“I was a little afraid to try it at first,” she said.

Botox is well known for getting rid of wrinkles, but it was first used to treat people with eye muscle disorders.

“Some of them also had migraine headaches or other types of headaches, and they found that, 'When I got the injections in the forehead, when I got injections around the eyes, it actually seemed to help my headaches,'” said Dr. Robert Duarte with the Long Island Jewish Pain and Headache Treatment Center.

Doctors have been using Botox to treat migraines for years without specific approval for using the drug for that purpose. The FDA recently approved the treatment for people who suffer at least 15 or more days of the headaches every month.

The injections block the transmission of chemical signals from the nerve to the muscle, causing the muscles to relax. Migraine sufferers need 20 to 30 injections in the forehead, temples and neck.

“The goal is not to cure headaches; it is to decrease the intensity, the frequency of the headache,” Duarte said.

Cantilli says it's working for her.

“I was able to function much better (and) manage the migraines with less medication,” she said.

Cantilli needs injections every three months because the muscles eventually return to normal. And while she says she can feel those needle pricks, she says it's nothing compared to the pain of migraines.

Migraine headaches are sometimes called "sick headaches" because they often are accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.