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Doctors Use Botox® to Help Patient Find Relief from Chronic Migraines

September 23, 2016

Deirdre Kamber Todd has suffered with excruciating headaches her entire life. Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, no one, including her family doctor, knew why. She vividly remembers her six-year-old self suffering in the dark with severe light sensitivity, fruit-like smells, nausea, vomiting and a runny nose.

The frequency of her migraines increased as she entered puberty and really picked up steam and intensity when she started college at Brandeis University, near Boston.

“Cluster migraine headaches really became a huge problem in my second year of college,” says Deirdre, “I was very athletic, involved in a lot of clubs and social, but I was forced to spend days at a time in a dark room in bed, making it very difficult to keep up my classes, commitments and normal friendships.”

With a spectrum of specialists in the Boston area, she underwent batteries of tests at various healthcare facilities. No one knew why she had migraines or how to cure it. Doctors tried every palliative solution, prescribing drugs for everything from epilepsy to high blood pressure. Nothing worked well, and the side effects were often nearly as disabling as the migraines.

As the years passed, Deirdre’s cluster migraines decreased in frequency and severity.  Having learned patterns in her migraines, coping skills like yoga and meditation, and dietary boundaries, she became adept at avoiding some migraine triggers and predicting when migraines were likely to occur. She maintained a more routine healthy lifestyle to cope with the interruptions caused by migraines.

In her forties, age once impacted Deirdre’s hormones, and her migraines returned with a vengeance. Now a wife, mother and busy attorney, Deirdre again sought medical assistance, going through another full battery of tests and trying everything the doctors suggested. Again, she found the treatments poor and the side effects intolerable. Something had to change.

One day, Deirdre’s mother saw something on the news about Botox® being used for migraines. It sounded not only like a crazy idea, but an unappealing one as well. Deirdre was personally against having elective cosmetic medical procedures, and the medical value of it sounded unlikely. But after some research, Deirdre turned to Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network physicians Sandeep Singh, MD, and Asare Christian, MD, MPH, for evaluation and treatment.

“One of the things that struck me was how thoroughly I was evaluated at Good Shepherd,” says Deirdre. “It was not like I just walked in and asked for Botox® to treat my headaches. There was an exhaustive evaluation performed, including months of logging, to determine that I was an appropriate candidate.

“There is clear evidence that Botox® is effective in the treatment of chronic migraines,” says Dr. Christian. “The leading theory is that the injections relieve compression on small cranial nerves. This was discovered somewhat accidentally when researchers noticed that migraine sufferers who received Botox® injections for cosmetic purposes also had a reduction in symptoms.”

Deirdre’s treatment at Good Shepherd consists of Dr. Christian carefully placing 31 injections in her scalp, neck and shoulders. The procedure takes place every three months in a very relaxed setting and takes about 45 minutes. Deidre says it is a bit uncomfortable – but not painful – and that the Botox® itself causes no side effects. 

The impact of the treatment was immediate and dramatic. While some patients see relief after the second or third set of injections, Deirdre experienced improvement in about one week. The medication dissipates at exactly three months, and a mild headache about two weeks beforehand reminds Deirdre of her next treatment at Good Shepherd. Since beginning treatment almost one year ago, she has only had two migraines – a life-changing accomplishment for someone who has suffered the painful condition since she was a child.

“I have to admit I was skeptical at first because I think of Botox® as cosmetic and elective, but having my health back has completely changed my opinion,” says Deirdre. “This is worth its weight in gold, and I am proof positive that it works.”