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Prescrire Int. 2011 Dec;20(122):287-90.

Botulinum toxin type A for migraine. First, do no harm.

[No authors listed]


Headache prevention in adults with chronic migraine is based first on oral drug therapy, preferably with propranolol, and on tapering off possible analgesic overuse. Botulinum toxin type A injections in head and neck muscles is now authorised for this purpose in the United Kingdom. It has been used off label for several years. Clinical evaluation in this indication is based on two placebo-controlled double-blind trials with identical designs. A total of 1384 patients underwent two sessions of intramuscular injections of botulinum toxin type A or placebo, 3 months apart, into at least 31 specific sites in the head and neck. Compared to baseline, patients who received botulinum toxin in one trial (but not in the other) experienced a statistically significant reduction in headache frequency at the end of the study, but the results are undermined by methodological issues. Botulinum toxin type A has not been compared with preventive oral therapy. An inherently unreliable indirect comparison suggests that botulinum toxin type A is clearly less effective than oral propranolol. In its other approved indications, botulinum toxin type A has been linked to deaths and muscle paralysis distant from the injection site, leading to swallowing difficulties and respiratory disorders. Some patients enrolled in clinical trials of botulinum toxin type A experienced transient worsening of their migraine and headache (9.3%, versus 5.8% of patients receiving placebo injections), exaggerated paralytic effects, and muscle pain and stiffness. In practice, given its uncertain efficacy, at best only modest, botulinum toxin type A is simply too risky a treatment for migraine. It is better to focus on fine tuning of standard prophylaxis.

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