For a decade, neurologists have been using Botox to relax the muscles of stroke patients who suffer from painful involuntary muscle contractions.
"It is an excellent drug because it can be used very specifically - you can pinpoint the exact muscle as well as the exact dose - and because it doesn't have side effects like dizziness, drowsiness and constipation that can come with other drugs, like valium," says Dr Susan Pierson, a Cincinnati neurologist who has been using Botox to treat spasticity in patients for 12 years.
The FDA approves drugs for specific purposes, which are outlined on the labels, but doctors can legally use the drugs for other purposes if they think they are useful. The medical world is hoping that a study by Indiana University neurologist Dr Allison Brasher, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, will put spasticity caused by strokes onto the FDA’s hit-list of Botox applications.
Brasher’s study found people with severe problems using their hands and fingers after a stroke were twice as likely to get relief from Botox injections than if they did not have Botox treatments.
"It clearly has clinical meaningfulness, improving the quality of life for these patients," she said.
In the study, 62% given Botox injections found relief of their symptoms, compared to only 27% of the patients taking the placebo.
(Robyn von Geusau, Health24, updated July 2007)