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Pandemic has you stressed? Nerve-relaxing injections could help relieve migraines

Photo of Christy Ankrom smiling as she looks at a computer screen. (Photo by Maricruz Kwon/UTHealth)
Christy Ankrom has suffered from migraines all her life and finally found a treatment option that keeps them at bay. (Photo by Maricruz Kwon/UTHealth)

Christy Ankrom has suffered from migraines all her life, but now a 20-minute treatment on her lunch break every three months is all it takes to keep them at bay. Ankrom, 41, finally found relief from nerve-relaxing Botox injections at UTHealth Neurosciences, part of McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

“I was officially diagnosed in 2005 with chronic migraines, but they have been a part of my life since childhood. I have tried several different medications over the last 15 years, but since the injections, my migraines are finally almost all gone,” Ankrom said.

Botox is a form of botulinum toxin type A, which is an injectable neurotoxin that disrupts the nerve signaling processes that stimulate muscle contraction. Botox is the only botulinum toxin type A that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat chronic migraines.

The treatment paradigm consists of 31 injection sites throughout the head and neck to be administered every 12 weeks. Individuals with chronic migraines experience 15 or more headaches per month for longer than four hours each and have likely tried multiple oral medications with little improvement, according to Erin Furr Stimming, MD, a movement disorder specialist with UTHealth Neurosciences and associate professor of neurology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

“Migraines are a cascade of pain that starts in the brain ganglion, which is a network of nerves, and then it sends pain signals through the brain,” Furr Stimming said. “The injections target the pain source to stop the spread, and they also serve as a muscle relaxer to help release the tension we store up in our neck and shoulders, which can potentially initiate the pain cascade. The treatment has been proven to decrease headache frequency and severity and patients may be able to taper off their oral medications after a few rounds.”

Many people are experiencing increased tension likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and this could trigger or exacerbate their migraine frequency, Furr Stimming said. In addition to headaches, migraines are commonly associated with nausea, vomiting, and throbbing pain that can last several days and can negatively impact quality of life.

“Everyone’s migraine presentation is different, but mine would usually start with smelling cigarette smoke when no one is smoking,” Ankrom said. “I start to become super sensitive to smell, light, and sound. I want to have sunglasses on and stick my head in the freezer. This would go on for days, and I would be unhappy, annoyed, and just not fun to be around.”

Ankrom had tried several other treatments, including diet and exercise, over-the-counter preventive medications, a beta blocker, and homeopathic treatments before she finally decided to give the injections a try.

“I put it off because I have a fear of needles and wasn’t comfortable with getting injections every three months. But if I had known how easy it would be and how well it would work, I would have done it sooner. I gladly do it now for the relief that it gives me,” Ankrom said.

“Botox is one of the few treatments we have for migraines that actually improves over time,” Furr Stimming said. “The longer the patient receives the treatment, the greater the improvement.”

The treatment is covered by most health insurance plans, as long as the patient has tried various preventive and reactive medications in the past and has at least 15 headache days a month. To visit a UTHealth Neurosciences neurologist, visit the website or call 713-500-UTHN (8846).

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