Let's get this out of the way: Yes, Botox is made from the botulinum toxin, and yes, that toxin causes the disease botulism. And it's true that the skin-smoothing injections come with black box labeling — the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) most stringent warning — because rare but serious complications may occur if the toxin spreads far beyond the injection site.
But while Botox is often associated with the expressionless and wrinkle-free faces of the rich and famous, it also can treat serious medical conditions and eliminate embarrassing problems. Obviously, if you're considering Botox injections, consult your doctor first. Botox is a prescription and must be administered by a trained professional. But if you're researching treatments for any of the following conditions, Botox may be one to investigate.
1. Incontinence. A recent study of 381 women at the Duke University School of Medicine showed that regular Botox injections worked better than a surgically implanted nerve stimulator to treat women with severe incontinence. That uncontrollable urge to urinate affects 17 percent of women over age 45 and 25 percent of women over age 75, according to Cindy L. Amundsen, M.D., the study’s lead author. Each treatment has its pros and cons: The surgical procedure is more invasive and more expensive, though the cost of Botox injections could add up over time and cause more adverse effects. According to the study, Botox participants reported a greater reduction in symptoms and higher satisfaction with the treatment.
"What we have learned from the study is the treatments are both good and it will just help inform physicians and patients who are trying to make a decision between these two therapies," Amundsen told NBC News.
2. Hyperhidrosis. Constant, excessive sweating can be embarrassing. The physical discomfort of feeling damp all the time, the stained clothes — it's no fun. When small doses of Botox are injected into the skin, they block nerves that supply the eccrine glands, which prevents the glands from producing sweat, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society. The shots are shallow — just below the surface of the skin — and have been shown to reduce underarm sweating by 82 to 87 percent. Results may last up to a year.
In 2004, the FDA approved Botox for treating excessive underarm sweating, though research has shown Botox to reduce sweating in other areas, too. In 2007, a German woman whose right hand would sweat profusely to the point of dripping up to five times a day, received Botox injections in her hand for six months, and the excessive sweating stopped, reports WebMD.
3. Muscle spasms. In the U.S., Botox is approved to treat muscle spasms in the eyelids, face, neck, shoulders and upper body. Because Botox is a nerve impulse blocker, according to the the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), it attaches to nerve endings and prevents the release of chemical transmitters, which activate muscles. Basically, it blocks the message from the brain that tells the muscles to contract, which means the muscle doesn't spasm. However, treatment may need to be repeated every three months as nerve endings grow new connections, UPMC says.
4. Chronic migraines. The FDA approved Botox to treat chronic migraines in adults in 2010 and said the injections were shown to be effective at migraine prevention. Migraines are characterized by intense pulsing or throbbing pain in one area of the head and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound
“Chronic migraine is one of the most disabling forms of headache,” Russell Katz, M.D., director of the Division of Neurology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a press release. “Patients with chronic migraine experience a headache more than 14 days of the month. This condition can greatly affect family, work, and social life, so it is important to have a variety of effective treatment options available.”
For chronic migraines, Botox is injected every 12 weeks around the head and neck. One caveat: It has not been shown to work for treating migraines that occur 14 days or less per month, or for other forms of headache.
5. Strabismus. Also known as crossed eyes, Botox has been used to change the position of the eyes since the 1970s, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Botox is injected directly into the eye muscle, relaxing the muscle and causing the eye to refocus. Injections are repeated every 3 to 4 months, though after multiple treatments, the effects last a little longer.