Botulinum toxin is made from a type of bacteria. It is a toxin that affects nerves. An injection puts this toxin into muscle. There, it blocks the release of the chemical signal from the nerves to muscles. This will decrease the muscle contraction.
Botulinum toxin is used for cosmetic and medical reasons. The injection process is often called botox injection, although any brand of the botulinum toxin may be used.
Reasons for Procedure
The injection is FDA approved to treat:
- Cervical dystonia—abnormal spasms of neck muscles
- Blepharospasm—spasm of eyelid muscles
- Strabismus —crossed eyes
- Hyperhidrosis —excessive sweating
- Chronic migraines
The injection has also been used to treat other conditions, such as:
- Tension headaches
- Achalasia —spasm of esophageal muscles that cause problems swallowing
- Spasmodic dysphonia
- Muscle spasms due to cerebral palsy
- Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis
- Spasticity in leg and arm muscles due to brain injury/stroke
- Focal limb dystonias
- Incontinence due to bladder problems
- Anal sphincter disorders
- Peripheral nerve pain
- Temporomandibular disorder (jaw disorder)
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Complications are rare. When they occur, they are often temporary and mild. Side effects are related to the site of injection. For example, if injections take place near the eyes, there may be complications with the eyelids or brow line.
Temporary issues may include:
- Stinging around the injection sites
The following are less common reactions. They are generally mild and do not last long.
- Flu -like symptoms
Other complications that may occur include:
- Excessive weakness of the muscle around the eyes—can cause drooping of the eyelids or obstruction of vision
- Difficulty swallowing—can occur in people receiving injections in their neck
- Compensatory hyperhidrosis—people being treated for hyperhidrosis may develop increased sweat production at another area of the body
- Excessive weakness or wasting in certain muscles—the injection may slow any improvement in the muscle
- Neck weakness in people with long, thin necks
- Risk of the botulinum toxin spreading beyond the injection area—may cause botulism symptoms, including difficulty breathing and death in severe cases. Children with cerebral palsy may be at a higher risk for this side effect.
- This procedure may worsen nerve or muscle disorders, such as:
The toxin can also interact with medications such as antibiotics. Tell your doctor about all of the medications that you are taking.
You should not have botox if you:
- Have an infection or inflammation in the area where botox will be injected
- Are sensitive to the ingredients in botox
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
What to Expect
Most often, none is given. Some people may prefer to have the area numbed for comfort. In this case, a topical anesthetic may be used.
Description of the Procedure
A thin needle will be used. The toxin will be injected through the skin into the targeted muscle. You will often need several injections in a small area.
- Remain upright for several hours
- Avoid alcohol
How Long Will It Take?
The time needed will depend on the number of sites involved. It is often less than 20 minutes.
Will It Hurt?
You may have some minimal discomfort.
Normal activities may be resumed after the procedure.
The toxin temporarily weakens targeted muscles. The treatment lasts up to 4 months. With repeated use, the effects may last longer.
Call Your Doctor
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty speaking
- Severe lower eyelid droop or obstructed vision
- Excessive weakness around the injection site
- Rash or any other sign of an allergic reaction
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery http://www.asds.net
American Society of Plastic Surgeons http://www.plasticsurgery.org
Canadian Dermatology Association http://www.dermatology.ca
Health Canada https://www.canada.ca
Allergan physician production information. Botox cosmetic (botulinum toxin type A). Available at: http://www.allergan.com/miscellaneous-pages/allergan-pdf-files/ehs-botox. Updated April 2, 2015. Accessed February 21, 2018.
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Ward A, Roberts G, Warner J, et al. Cost-effectiveness of botulinum toxin type A in the treatment of post-stroke spasticity. J Rehabil Med. 2005;37(4):252-257.
11/4/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com : FDA gives update on botulinum toxin safety warnings. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm175013.htm. Updated April 17, 2013. Accessed February 12, 2016.
3/19/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com : FDA approves Botox to treat spasticity in flexor muscles of the elbow, wrist and fingers. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm203776.htm. Updated April 24, 2013. Accessed February 12, 2016.
5/17/2012 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T253050/Migraine-prophylaxis-in-adults : Jackson JL, Kuriyama A, Hayashino Y. Botulinum toxin A for prophylactic treatment of migraine and tension headaches in adults: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2012;307(16):1736-1745.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
- Review Date: 03/2018
- Update Date: 02/12/2016