What Is a Migraine?

Simply put, a migraine is an intense and painful type of headache. Lasting anywhere from a few hours to several days, migraines can cause symptoms that are much more severe than that of a typical headache.

Migraine symptoms

Signs of migraines include:

  • Moderate to severe pain (often described as pounding, throbbing pain) that can affect the whole head, or can shift from one side of the head to the other
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light, noise or odors
  • Nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, or abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Paleness
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Fever (rare)
  • Bright flashing dots or lights, blind spots, wavy or jagged lines

You can learn more about the differences between headaches and migraines with our guide

“Chronic migraines” are described as those that occur at least 15 days per month. Although they aren’t curable, migraines are treatable.

Common treatments include both over-the-counter and prescription medicine. If those types of treatment aren’t sufficient, you and your doctor might consider alternative treatments, including BOTOX® injections.

What Is BOTOX?

BOTOX is a prescription drug made of the bacterial toxin “botulinum.” It’s commonly used to treat muscle conditions or to improve the appearance of wrinkles by temporarily paralyzing muscles in the face.

“As we age, these muscles that have been working so hard over the course of our lives cause the overlying skin to wrinkle, and that ages the face,” says Mistica LaBrasca, MPAS, physician assistant, UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center. “So by temporarily relaxing these muscles, we can soften or even completely eliminate the lines temporarily.”

Treating Your Chronic Migraines with BOTOX

BOTOX temporarily slows muscle activity. Though it’s commonly thought of as a cosmetic option, BOTOX is an effective treatment for a number of medical ailments, including eye muscle conditions, overactive bladder, and excessive sweating. In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration approved Botox as a treatment option for chronic migraine.

BOTOX treatment for chronic migraine

BOTOX can help reduce the occurrence of migraines and their symptoms in some chronic migraine sufferers.

Once injected, BOTOX helps reduce the expression of certain pain pathways in nerve cells related to migraines and sensory systems. This differs from the other common use of BOTOX as a muscle relaxer.

What to expect from BOTOX treatment

Most people who choose to treat chronic migraines with BOTOX receive treatment about every three months. Your doctor will inject BOTOX into a number of identified points across your forehead, temple, and neck. Initial treatment plans for BOTOX usually span two to three treatments, or six to nine months.

BOTOX injections can be done “as quick in-office procedures,” LaBrasca says. “They take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.”

“Recovery is relatively quick,” LaBrasca adds. “Many people will return to work and social activities that same day, if not the very next day.”

RELATED: Headaches vs. Migraines – What’s the Difference?

Side Effects of BOTOX

As with any medication, side effects are possible with BOTOX. In some patients, BOTOX may not be effective, or it may take a few days for them to see relief from pain. Other side effects may include:

  • Double vision
  • Muscle weakness
  • Neck pain
  • Bruising or swelling around injection
  • Flu-like symptoms

If you’re considering BOTOX as a treatment for your chronic migraines, consult your doctor. Together you can determine your best treatment options.

To learn more, visit the UPMC Headache Center website.