Doctor’s Orders: The Benefits and Hazards of Botox

Botulinum Toxin.

Botulinum Toxin a.k.a Botox. Wikipedia

Botox is a drug made from a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. It’s the same toxin that causes a life-threatening type of food poisoning called botulism. In botulism, the toxin prevents normal muscle contraction potentially, impacting one’s ability to breath. Interestingly, in small doses in can be used be used to treat a variety of health problems.

The drug has gained popularity for cosmetic procedures, first used in 1989 to decrease the appearance of frown lines and was approved by the FDA in 2002. Its uses now extend to all facial wrinkles, chest lifts, bigger eyes and pore shrinkage. Global sales of the injection have skyrocketed in the last 10 years, making it the top minimally invasive cosmetic procedure.

As mentioned, Botox injections are used to treat a variety of medical conditions, not just cosmetic reasons. These medical conditions consist of:

  • Uncontrollable blinking
  • Misaligned eyes or “cross eye”
  • Cervical dystonia
  • Achalasia
  • Muscle spasm/ contracture
  • Excessive sweating or hyperhydrosis
  • Migraine headaches
  • Bladder spasm
BERLIN - JANUARY 29: An ampule with Botox, with the European definition - "Vistabel", seen at a cosmetic treatment center January 29, 2007 in Berlin, Germany. Over 50,000 people in Germany receive the treatment every year and its popularity is rising, despite warnings from health specialists over the nerve toxin?s side effects.

An ampule with Botox. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

The drug, however, is not without its risks. Botox injections work by weakening or paralyzing certain muscles or by blocking certain nerves. The effects of these injections last about three to four months. Side effects of Botox injections can include pain at the injection site, flu-like symptoms, headache and upset stomach.

As Botox is used in a medical setting, it can be easy to forget that it is still a toxin. Women who are pregnant or breast feeding should refrain from Botox treatments for this reason. Diffusion of the toxin in the upper face can result in highly undesirable effects that last up to a few months. Common side effects are excessive weakness of facial muscles, drooping eyelids, excessive elevation of the lateral brow, double vision, excessive tearing, decreased eye closure and dry eyes. On the bright side, serious side effects are few and far between.

If you choose to get Botox, make sure you go to a certified and reputable physician. There have been reports and cases where patients were injected with fake drugs resulting in some severe health consequences. Here are some tips to avoid being a victim:

    1. Botox is an injectable drug, and like any other drug should be administered by a trained and qualified clinician.
    2. Know what you are being injected with, and make sure the clinician injecting you is using only an FDA-approved product purchased within the U.S. This is as simple as asking him or her to provide you with the information. If they won’t give you this information, change doctors immediately.
    3. Go over the risks and benefits thoroughly with your health care professional.
    4. Be honest with your doctor and notify them of any and all medical conditions you have and medications you are taking, including vitamins and over-the-counter drugs.
    5. Make sure Botox is being administered in an appropriate setting, medical setting using sterile instruments. If a trained and licensed non-physician is performing the injections, make sure it is under the supervision of a qualified physician.
    Doctor’s Orders: The Benefits and Hazards of Botox