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April 15, 2012 marked the 10 year anniversary of the FDA’s approval for Botox as a medical and cosmetic treatment. Since its approval in 2002, Botox has become extremely popular as a cosmetic enhancement, thanks to its ability to reduce wrinkles.

Botox has become commonplace as a powerful and non-invasive cosmetic enhancement tool, but few people are aware of its medicinal qualities. Botox is being used for a number of alternative treatments as therapy for common diseases and conditions ranging from chronic headaches to strokes.

Before we examine Botox’s medicinal, therapeutic qualities, let’s take a closer look at what exactly Botox is.

What is Botox?

Botox is the brand name for Botulinum toxin, a byproduct of the bacteria clostridium botulinum. As you may surmise from the Latin name, the botulinum toxin causes botulism, a rare and serious illness that causes paralysis. Botulism is contracted as a foodborne illness through the intestines or as an airborne bacteria through open wounds, mucus membranes, the eyes, and the respiratory tract.

So why and how is a toxin that causes paralysis being used for medical therapy? The botulinum toxin causes paralysis by decreasing the release of acetylcholine, which blocks neuromuscular transmission. Once the toxin is purified it isn’t lethal, but it still causes paralysis. In a controlled setting, that’s exactly what we want.

Botox was actually used for medicinal treatments before the cosmetic ones that have popularized it. Some of the first medical uses of Botox were to correct permanently crossed eyes and curb involuntary eye blinking and twitching, because the toxin is easily absorbed through the mucus membranes of the eyes. Botox has since been used successfully in non-muscular applications, such as a treatment to reduce hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating.

Botox works through injections to reduce wrinkles and fine lines by temporarily weakening or paralyzing the facial muscles around wrinkles. Because lines and wrinkles literally disappear, the injections appear to add volume to a person’s face.

Because Botox has become a commonplace cosmetic treatment, people aren’t as quick to accept it as a form of medicinal therapy. Below are some of the illnesses and conditions that Botox is being used to successfully treat today.

Botox for Strokes, Cerebral Palsy, and Multiple Sclerosis

Strokes cause paralysis on at least one side of the body, while cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis cause patients to experience stiff limbs or temporary loss of the use of limbs, somewhat like paralysis. How can a toxin that causes paralysis be used to combat it?

Botox is therapeutic for stroke victims and sufferers of cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis because their stiff limbs hurt, sometimes preventing the use of physical therapy for treatment. By using Botox to paralyze the limbs and remove feeling, they can be better manipulated by a physical therapist without undue suffering of the patient. Strokes also cause uncontrollable muscle spasms that Botox can tame so patients can more easily perform physical therapy and return to routine daily activities sooner.

Botox for Chronic Headaches

Botox has shown to provide relief for chronic migraines and other chronic or daily headaches. A chronic headache is defined as one that recurs 15 or more times a month, or in frequencies that occur about every other day. That’s a lot of headaches and unnecessary pain.

Botox is injected into the neck and head of chronic headache sufferers and is thought to quiet the cranial pressure and swelling that may be responsible for migraines and other headaches. While treatments are not successful in all patients, they have few side effects and are worth a try for people living with pain from headaches. Because treatments last about 90 days, a chronic headache sufferer is likely to have at least some relief for a few months.

Botox for Hyperhidrosis

Hyperhidrosis is also known as excessive sweating. A person who suffers from this condition has overactive eccrine (sweat) glands, causing them to sweat much more than is necessary to properly cool the body. Hyperhidrosis can lead to dehydration, discomfort, and embarrassment. Luckily, the condition does not cause body odor and an overactive eccrine gland can be calmed by Botox injections.

Botox for Nighttime Teeth Grinding

Since nighttime teeth grinding is involuntary and happens during sleep, it makes sense that Botox will quiet restless jaws at night and prevent teeth grinding. Although it has not been prescribed for this common chronic nighttime condition for long, studies show it has significant benefits and few to no side effects.

Botox is currently being studied for other medicinal uses that help calm the body’s muscles and/or prevent pain, such as asthma, incontinence, and fibromyalgia.

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