How Botox helped treat migraine headaches

Emily Jacobs

As migraine sufferers know, it’s nearly impossible to function with a migraine headache. Emily Jacobs did her best, but when her migraines became increasingly severe and frequent, her primary care physician, Claudia Talland, MD, referred the Stow resident to Agnes Virga, MD, an Emerson neurologist who has treated many patients with Botox injections. The treatment prevents muscles in the head, neck and shoulders from going into spasm, and it regulates the pain cycle. In her own words, Ms. Jacobs, who suffered with migraines for 20 years, describes below how Botox treatment has been life-changing.

“I had my first migraine when I was about 20; I was in college. I had no idea what was happening to me. I suddenly had a blind spot in the center of my vision, it felt like light was piercing my brain, and I became nauseous. I was commuting and had to drive myself home. I’ll never forget it.

“I went to see Dr. Talland, my primary care physician. She said I had a migraine, and she gave me a shot of Imitrex and nausea medication. I had another migraine the following month, when my PMS [premenstrual syndrome] began, so she figured out my headaches were hormone-related. My mother had the same problem, so I must have inherited it from her. I began taking birth control pills to regulate my periods. That helped, but my headaches didn’t disappear.

“I managed to function for a number of years, working at a residence for mentally ill adults and dealing with my monthly migraines. When I turned 35, I had to stop taking birth control pills because I was smoking, and that put me at risk for blood clots. I had the Mirena IUD inserted, which helped a little, but then my migraines became worse — more severe and more frequent. We tried a different migraine medication, but it didn’t help.

“Dr. Talland said it was time for me to see Dr. Virga. She was great, because she got me involved in my care, which I liked. She had me keep a journal to track when I had migraines and what the triggers were — bright lights, certain foods or turning the page on my Kindle. She explained that, if I know what I can and can’t do, I’ll have a better day.

“But at that point, I was having rebound headaches — migraines caused by taking migraine medication. I was on disability and keeping the house dark much of the time. By July 2015, I had a migraine that lasted for four months. Dr. Virga told me about Botox treatment; she has had success in treating a lot of patients. The FDA requires that you have migraines or bad headaches 15 days per month to qualify for treatment. I qualified; I would have done anything to try Botox.

“In February 2016, I had my first series of injections: 31 across the forehead and behind the ears, down the neck and across the shoulders. It was quick, easy and only stung a little. I thought it was going to work, because I had a migraine when I went to Dr. Virga’s office that day, and I woke up the next day without one.

“So far, I’ve had three series of injections every three months. After the first series, I had about 10 migraines in three months; with the second series, I had five; and after the third series, I didn’t have any. I couldn’t believe it. You need a regular dose of Botox to prevent migraines, so I’ll go back every three months for as long as I can.

“Botox treatment has improved my life so much. I’m back to doing the things I used to do. I hadn’t seen my best friend in six months because I always had a headache. Now I see her regularly. I can enjoy being outside now, because I don’t have to wear sunglasses and a floppy hat. It makes me so happy.”