You see advertisements everywhere for Botox injections. Remove unwanted wrinkles. Banish unsightly neck bands. Clear away irksome crow's-feet. Yes, it's true -- a large number of people are having Botox injections to regain a more youthful appearance.

A simple query on an Internet search engine will result in dozens of sites touting the cosmetic wonders of Botox. Although Botox has been used in this manner for years, it was only approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cosmetic use in April 2002. (It has been approved for the treatment of several medical conditions since 1989.)

In this edition of HowStuffWorks, you'll find out what Botox is, how and why it's used and about its connection to botulism.

What is Botox?
Botox is a trade name for botulinum toxin A. In this way, Botox is related to botulism. Botulism is a form of food poisoning that occurs when someone eats something containing a neurotoxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Botulinum toxin A is one of the neurotoxins produced by Clostridium botulinum.

The most serious symptom of botulism is paralysis, which in some cases has proven to be fatal. The botulinum toxins (there are several -- the main types are A through F) attach themselves to nerve endings. Once this happens, acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter responsible for triggering muscle contractions, cannot be released. Essentially, the botulinum toxins block the signals that would normally tell your muscles to contract. Say, for example, it attacks the muscles in your chest -- this could have a profound impact on your breathing. When people die from botulism, this is often the cause -- the respiratory muscles are paralyzed so it is impossible to breathe.

Related Terms
  • Botulism - Food poisoning usually caused by ingesting the neurotoxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum; characterized by paralysis; can be fatal
  • Blepharospasm - Involuntary spasmodic contraction of certain eye muscles
  • Cervical dystonia - Dystonia of the neck area
  • Dystonia - State of abnormal tension in any of the tissues resulting in the impairment of a person's voluntary movement
  • Neurotoxin - Any toxin that acts specifically on nervous tissue
  • Strabismus - A manifest lack of parallelism of the visual axes of the eyes (crossed eyes)

Source: Stedman's Medical Dictionary

At this point, you may be wondering why anyone would want to have a botulinum toxin injected into his or her body. The answer is simple: If an area of the body can't move, it can't wrinkle.

Botox in the Body
Botulinum toxin A is successfully used to treat blepharospasm and strabismus, and botulinum toxin B has proven useful in treating cervical dystonia -- these are all conditions that in some way involve spasms, involuntary muscle contractions.

Within a few hours to a couple of days after the botulinum toxin is injected into the affected muscle(s), the spasms or contractions are reduced or eliminated altogether. The effects of the treatment are not permanent, reportedly lasting anywhere from three to eight months. By injecting the toxin directly into a certain muscle or muscle group, the risk of it spreading to other areas of the body is greatly diminished.

When Botox -- botulinum toxin A -- is injected into the muscles surrounding the eyes, for instance, those muscles can not "scrunch up" for a period of time. They are paralyzed. So the wrinkles in that area, often referred to as "crow's-feet," temporarily go away.

Possible Side Effects
  • Dysphasia
  • Upper respiratory-tract infection
  • Headache
  • Neck pain
  • Ptosis
  • Bruising/soreness at injection site
  • Nausea

Other applications for Botox are currently under investigation. It has been reported that spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that affects the muscles of the larynx, responds well to Botox treatment. It has also been used to treat other dystonias, such as writer's cramp, as well as facial spasms, head and neck tremors and hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating).

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