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New Wrinkles for Botox

It's also being used for migraines, sweating and writer's cramp

Not so long ago, botulism toxin was universally feared as a deadly form of food poisoning. Then doctors learned to inject minute amounts in carefully selected areas. Initially approved to treat chronic muscle spasms of the face, the muscle-paralyzing chemical may be best known as a way to smooth out lines and wrinkles on the face.

But that's just the beginning of its other uses.

Botulinum toxin A -- better known by its brand name, Botox -- is also being used to treat hyperhidrosis, a condition that causes people to sweat profusely even at room temperature. Hyperhidrosis can be life-altering: a wet handshake can scotch a job interview, and some sufferers can't use computer keyboards without shorting them out. A wire service story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Botox may become the treatment of choice for hyperhidrosis.

A feature from the Orange County Register says that physicians are also investigating Botox as a treatment for vocal spasms, some types of migraine, persistent writer's cramp, drooling associated with Parkinson's disease and several muscle disorders involving the gastrointestinal tract. HealthDay previously described the use of Botox to relieve back pain and how it may treat the tics that accompany Tourette's syndrome.

Botox is not officially approved as a treatment for these disorders, but doctors can prescribe it for "off label" conditions -- treatments not officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -- at their own discretion. Insurers, however, seldom cover such off-label uses. And treatment is neither cheap nor permanent. Patients often require repeated injections every four to six months.

An injection in the wrong spot or with the wrong dosage can also cause unintended paralysis -- albeit transitory. The Australian paper The Age advises potential patients that general practitioners offering Botox injections aren't always trained enough to use it with the necessary precision.

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