As with any drug, Allergan is legally required to make known Botox's most severe potential side effects, and in 2009 the FDA required Botox to bear a black-box warning--the strongest type of warning label given to any drug--cautioning that there was evidence the drug had been linked to serious side effects. With Botox, this includes effects spreading from the injection site to other parts of the body, causing muscle weakness, double vision and drooping eyelids.
Botulinum toxin exerts its effect by cleaving key proteins required for nerve activation. First, the toxin binds specifically to nerves which use the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Once bound to the nerve terminal, the neuron takes up the toxin into a vesicle. As the vesicle moves farther into the cell, it acidifies, activating a portion of the toxin which triggers it to push across the vesicle membrane and into the cell cytoplasm. Once inside the cytoplasm, the toxin cleaves SNARE proteins preventing the cell from releasing vesicles of neurotransmitter. This stops nerve signaling, leading to paralysis.
A BOTOX “treatment” consists of 31 injections to the head and neck areas, if adherence to the FDA approved protocol is followed. Except for injection into the procerus, which is in the midline, all others are paired sets of injections on the left and right sides. Muscles included are the frontalis and temporalis areas as well as the occipitalis, upper cervical paraspinals, and trapezii. The amount injected at each of the 31 injection sites is small—5 units of BOTOX in a volume of 0.1 mL normal saline or sterile water. A total of 155 units is are typically used.
Ray Chester, an attorney in Austin who has represented several plaintiffs in lawsuits against Allergan, says that just about all the cases he has handled involved off-label use of the drug. In 2014 a New York couple argued that Botox, which they chose to try off-label to treat their son's cerebral-palsy symptoms, caused life-threatening complications. The family was awarded $6.75 million by a jury. Allergan, which initially planned to appeal, ended up privately settling the case with the family, and the terms of the settlement have been kept confidential.
Botox only lasts three to six months—and yet what's less commonly discussed is this: Facial muscles naturally weaken over time and going overboard in a certain area could have unwanted consequences. "If you do too much Botox on your forehead for many, many years, the muscles will get weaker and flatter," cautions Wexler, adding that the skin can also appear thinner and looser. Moreover, as your muscles become weaker, they can start to recruit surrounding muscles when you make facial expressions. "If one stops using their forehead muscles, they may start squinting using their nose and have wrinkles along the side of their nose," she explains. Translation: You need even more Botox for the newly recruited muscles, says Wexler. To avoid these kind of missteps, researching a doctor diligently is essential, as is approaching injectables conservatively, and asking questions about how the treatment will be tailored to your needs.
As part of the settlement, Allergan agreed to plead guilty to one criminal misdemeanor misbranding charge and pay $375 million. The company acknowledged that its marketing of Botox led to off-label uses of the drug. Allergan also agreed to pay $225 million to resolve civil charges alleging that the marketing of Botox had caused doctors to file false reimbursement claims, though Allergan denied wrongdoing. The company said in a statement that the settlement was in the best interest of its stockholders because it avoided litigation costs and "permits us to focus our time and resources on ... developing new treatments."
BOTOX® treats the symptoms of severe underarm sweating when topical medicines do not work well enough in people 18 years and older. It is not known whether BOTOX® is safe or effective for severe sweating anywhere other than your armpits. BOTOX® treatments temporarily block the chemical signals from the nerves that stimulate the sweat glands, resulting in reduced sweating.