Happiness in a bottle, hope in a syringe

After I scheduled my first Botox appointment to relieve migraines, relief swept over me like a cold shower on a sweltering summer day. Sure, I was intimidated by the notion of having around 32 syringes injected into my face, scalp and neck, but the possible result was a prospect far too tempting to refuse.

After I examined the positive feedback of others who had received Botox for migraines, I realized it had the potential to solve my problem. Having experimented fervently with alternative treatments, the needle became one of my last options.

Wrinkles have not tormented me for the last six years, nor vanity that compels me to exist in the living image of Barbie. No, I sought the needle for a much greater reason.

Caitlin Harrison, the author of this article, receiving Botox injections at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.

Caitlin Harrison, the author of this article, receiving Botox injections at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.

Botox, short for botulinum toxin,  is a treatment currently used to alleviate the symptoms of chronic migraines and headaches. Though researchers are still not entirely sure why Botox works so effectively in treating this condition, many suspect the answer lies within the drug’s ability to calm overactive pain transmitters in the brain.

Having been FDA approved for treating migraines in 2010, it is evident that Botox is spearheading the path toward innovative new ways to treat the troubling condition.

Oddly enough, the medical world’s current understanding of headaches is quite limited. That is certainly a major part of what makes treating migraines and headaches so challenging. Not much is known about the unusual chain of events that triggers abnormal brain function (and thus migraines) to occur. What doctors do understand are the symptoms that often correlate with migraines, as well as a few drugs that can relieve headache pain in what can only be described as happy coincidences.

To clarify, not a single prescription medicine exists that was designed specifically and exclusively for treating headaches and migraines. The drugs that are currently and commonly prescribed to chronic patients are primarily anti-seizure medications and antidepressants that just happen to have the lovely side effect of healing headaches.

Only two drugs are FDA-approved for treating headaches: Botox and an anti-seizure medication called Topamax. Again, neither of those were originally created with such an intention in mind.

So what about pain-relievers? When the average person gets a headache, most people reach for medications such as Advil, Tylenol or Excedrin. While those drugs can be effective for some, chronic patents are not recommended to use them as they can become extremely addictive.

Chronic patients, by definition, are described as having at least 15 intense headache or migraine days a month. When looking at the bigger picture, taking that many pills can be more harmful than they can ever be helpful. Rebound headaches are a common consequence of overusing and can be challenging to recover from as well.

From a social standpoint, chronic migraines can potentially isolate those who suffer from them. Similar to the stigma surrounding depression, it can be difficult for the average person to understand the struggles that sufferers of chronic migraines face.

A person who does not understand depression might say, “I’ve been sad before. Everyone gets sad sometimes. But you have to get over it.” Similarly, someone who does not understand chronic headaches might say, “I’ve had headaches before. Everyone gets headaches sometimes, but you have to get over it.”

Certainly most people have dealt with a headache at some point, but what if that headache lasts a week? Or a month? A year? What if the pain was so intense that a person became nauseous or became too weak to get out of bed? The potentially debilitating symptoms can be all too real for those who experience them.

Real personal accounts from people who suffer from chronic migraines and headaches are shared on MyChronicMigraine.com, funded by Allergan Inc. Those stories detail the challenges that sufferers face both physically and emotionally.

Considering how incredibly common headaches are, it almost feels like a contradiction to realize how little is yet understood of them, and people are urgently searching for more effective treatments. Doctors and researchers alike are continuously working to learn more about this condition in the hopes of discovering a medicine to treat the problem directly.

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