Botox injections are known as a cosmetic procedure for flawless, wrinkle-free skin. A new study has found that Botox is just as beneficial, if not more, for the heart. Injecting Botox into the heart can help it beat more steadily, specifically after intense surgical procedures like heart bypass surgery. Researchers at the University of Rochester conducted a study on the benefits of Botox and found that it prevents post-surgical complications like stroke, kidney failure, and heart attack. The researchers also discovered another common occurrence: atrial fibrillation.
“A few hundred thousand patients undergo heart surgery every year, and a-fib is very common, occurring in about 30 percent.”
Looking at the common complications that often follow heart bypass surgery, the researchers first tested the Botox remedy on animals and were successful in interrupting signaling between the heart and brain. When Botox was injected near the heart, it redirected the electrical signaling, causing the heart’s beating pattern to regulate. For physicians, this study may be groundbreaking, as so many people who’ve undergone heart bypass surgery have complications. Even more often, these complications are related to electrical issues with the heart. In the study, the authors explain these electrical complications in more detail.
“About a third of all patients undergoing bypass surgery will develop atrial fibrillation, putting them at higher risk for cardiovascular complications. Atrial fibrillation is also associated with lengthened hospitalization and that means increased healthcare costs.”
Atrial fibrillation is an extremely dangerous condition, and some patients who develop a-fib after surgery have a five year life expectancy. Likewise, patients who develop a-fib post-surgery have an increased recovery period. In efforts to investigate just how Botox could be used on humans to prevent the development of a-fib and other conditions, Dr. Jonathan Steinberg, the lead researcher and his team at Valley Health System, tested injections on 60 patients in collaboration with researchers in Russia, according to Time. Here is what took place during their extensive study.
The researchers first decided to try two different injections to widen the results. Half of the individuals received a Botox injection in the fat that surrounds their heart. The other half were injected with regular saline shots. Out of the 30 recipients of the Botox injections, only 7 percent developed arrhythmias. This number showed a clear breakthrough with the effects of Botox, as 30 percent of the saline shot recipients developed arrhythmias. How does this differ from current practices?
The usual treatment for an arrhythmia is beta blockers, which, over the years of use, has proven to be ineffective in remedying the affliction. Botox as an alternative freezes the excitatory neurotransmitters, which are signals sent by the brain to the heart upon traumatic events like surgery. The act of freezing this activity alone allows the heart’s rhythm to be regulated.
Botox, a toxin made from Clostridium botulinum bacteria, has been used for its similar effects on human skin for years now. When just a small amount is injected into the muscle, the muscles are paralyzed and nerve signals are blocked, causing any wrinkles or creases to disappear. The benefits of using Botox to prevent post-surgical conditions are clear, but what the study appears to be missing are the known risks.
The various nerves connected to the heart have different functions and therefore would react to the presence of Botox differently. With some of these nerves meant to help the heart speed up and others whose job is to slow the heart down, the injection of Botox could cause heart rate-increasing nerves to slow down the heart and vice versa. Thus, the same Botox injection that was meant to regulate the beat of the heart could then cause it to be abnormal.
Despite the existence of doubt related to Botox injections for post heart surgery patients, the researchers stand by their claims. Specifically, lead researcher Steinberg believes that Botox is the next big thing in cardio-surgery treatment.
“This first-in-man study has opened a whole new line of thinking and research. In the near future, botox injections may become the standard of care for heart bypass and valve patients, but we’re not quite there yet.”
[Image via Bloomberg/Getty Images]