How does Botox work?

6 03 2013


Botox is a brand name for the neurotoxic protein botulinum toxin, produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. If administered in large doses, the protein can cause botulism, a raare paralytic illness that is often associated with food poisoning. Botox became FDA approved in 2002 however, and has been used ever since in cosmetic medicine to treat moderate to severe brow furrow (glabellar lines), uncontrolled blinking, wrinkles, and facial lines. These procedures only use a small amount of diluted botulinum toxin to enable controlled weakening of muscles.

Botox is one of the most common cosmetic surgical procedures undertaken by both women and men throughout the UK, in a bid to reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles. But have you ever wondered how it really works? Read on for a more in-depth analysis about how Botox works.

The treatment consists of a small dose of Botox being injected into the affected muscle. The medication binds to the nerve endings and blocks the release of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine that causes muscles to contract or move. When the acetylcholine is blocked, the muscle no longer receives the signal to contract and becomes temporarily paralysed. The effects can take anywhere from three to seven days to appear after each injection.

The good thing about Botox is that patients do not require anaesthesia and usually take just a few minutes to perform. The surgeon injects the protein into the muscle using a fine needle to minimise the patient’s discomfort and to ensure improved accuracy. Surgeons generally recommend that patients avoid alcohol for about a week prior to the procedure. To minimise bruising, patients should stop using aspirin or other anti-inflammatory medicines about two weeks before the treatment.

The effects from Botox treatment for lines and wrinkles generally last between four and six months. As muscle action gradually returns, the former lines and wrinkles start reappearing and wrinkles need to be re-treated. The more often you have Botox, the less frequent and severe lines will appear because the muscles are being trained to relax.

However, it’s important to be aware that Botox is not suitable for everyone. Patients who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have a neurological disease should not use Botox. As Botox doesn’t work for all wrinkles, a consultation with a doctor is always recommended.

As with any surgical procedure, you have to bear in mind that there are possible side effects. Your surgeon should fully explain all of the possible side effects to you before you agree to the procedure. The most common side effect of Botox is temporary bruising. Headaches lasting 24-48 hours can occur but in rare cases. A small percentage of patients may develop eyelid drooping but this usually resolves itself within three weeks. It happens when the Botox moves around so you should try to avoid rubbing the treated area for 12 hours after a Botox injection or lay down for three to four hours post-treatment.

Adverse reactions to Botox have included respiratory failure and even death. In such reported cases, the reactions appear to be related to the Botox spreading from the area of injection to other areas, and were found mainly in children being treated for muscle spasm related to cerebral palsy.

As well as being used in a number of cosmetic medical treatments, Botox has other uses, which may surprise you. Warning, not all of these potential Botox treatments are FDA approved so if you’re considering any of them, it’s important to fully research them and talk to a professional surgeon first.

‘Gummy smiles’ are smiles that show too much of the gums and usually result from ‘excessive lip elevation’ where the upper lip rises too far above the upper teeth when smiling. By injecting Botox into the upper lip, the retractor muscles are weakened so it won’t rise as high and your smile will seem better balanced. The procedure takes roughly five minutes and can last up to six months.

Patients suffering from chronic migraines can now be treated with Botox. Traditionally, migraines have been difficult to treat in some patients as they’re typically accompanied by a variety of side effects including dizziness, nausea, light sensitivity and vomiting. Botox is injected into seven areas around the temples, forehead, neck and shoulders to prevent pain signals from reaching the nerve endings.

Finally, Botox can also be used to treat a condition known as axillary hyperhidrosis, or ‘excessive underarm sweating’. It has been proven to alleviate symptoms of all sorts of sweating, including underarms, hands and feet. It works by blocking the release of the chemical responsible for stimulating the sweat glands. It’s worthwhile noting however, that Botox doesn’t cure excessive sweating; it simply treats the condition for up to seven months.




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