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Experts say NHS should prescribe Botox for migraines

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Charities and neurologists who treat the condition say the injections, which are normally used as a cosmetic treatment to “freeze” the muscles in the forehead, and slow the progression of wrinkles, can help people who suffer from chronic attacks.

The Migraine Trust and British Association for the Study of Headache (BASH) have concluded that the controversial therapy should be offered free to thousands of people who suffer from such headaches. Although Botox (Botulinum Toxin type A) was licensed in this country as a preventive treatment for chronic migraine last year, it has rarely been funded by the health service. Neurologists say that it is unclear why the treatment works, but that it is thought to have an impact on the sensory nerves in the scalp, head and neck, preventing changes in the brain which generate migraines.

Research published last year suggested that for those suffering from chronic migraines – classed as suffering more than 15 days a month – the number of attacks could be halved for a period of six months, with two courses of the injections.

Dr Mark Weatherall, a consultant neurologist from Charing Cross Hospital, said some patients who had been given the treatment had seen their number of attacks fall to zero. He said: “We don’t think this is a miracle cure; it doesn’t work for everyone but the evidence is it is at least as good as anything else out there for a particular group of people who suffer from chronic migraines.” Dr Weatherall added: “These are people who are really debilitated by the headaches – many have lost jobs or had relationships damaged by them, so we feel more needs to be offered to them.”

Estimates suggest around 700,000 adults – 2 per cent of the population – suffer from chronic migraines.

Wendy Thomas, chief executive of the Migraine Trust, said: “The Migraine Trust strongly feels that all licensed treatments, including Botox, should be made available to those who benefit most from it. Such treatment should be funded on the NHS.”

Elaine Ransome, 27, from north Yorkshire received Botox treatment in March, as part of a training workshop for doctors. Since then, her migraine attacks have reduced from every day to around five days a month. The accountant had become so debilitated by headaches that she had been off sick from work for months at a time. She said: “The doctors had tried everything – all sorts of different drugs, which didn’t help and just left me feeling worse.” Despite the dramatic difference made by one session of injections she has been told the NHS will not fund any more treatment.

The experts say there is no evidence to suggest that Botox helps people with other headache types, such as tension headaches, episodic, migraines and chronic daily headaches which are not migraines.

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