Botox can reduce wrinkles, but it may also save lives when used in heart bypass surgery, according to research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology.

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Botox helps reduce irregular heart rhythms after bypass surgery, the new study suggests.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG) treats blocked heart arteries by creating new passages for blood to flow to the heart muscle.

CABG, sometimes called "cabbage," is one of the most common and effective procedures to manage blockage of blood to the heart muscle. The surgery aims to improve the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart, to relieve chest pain of angina, to reduce the risk of a heart attack, and to improve the ability for physical activity.

During the operation, arteries or veins are grafted from other parts of the body and used to reroute the blood around the clogged artery. Depending on how many arteries are blocked, the patient may undergo one, two, three or more bypass grafts.

Treatment requires several days in the hospital, and 30% of patients suffer from irregular heart rhythms afterward. The most common complication of heart surgery is irregular heart rhythms, or Atrial Fibrillation, also known as AFib or AF.

Botox seen to reduce arrhythmia for up to a year

AF is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. However, injecting Botox into the fat surrounding the heart after surgery appears to help prevent AF.

Fast facts about arrhythmia
  • 2.7-6.1 million people in the US experience arrhythmia
  • It affects 2% of people under 65, and 9% of those over 65
  • People of European descent are more likely to be affected than African-Americans.

Learn more about arrhythmia

Botox, or botulinum toxin, is produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. When a small amount of Botox is injected into a muscle, it blocks nerve signals that tell muscles to contract.

Researchers in two Russian hospitals randomly assigned 60 patients to receive Botox or saline injections.

Botox was injected into the four major fat pads surrounding the heart.

To avoid bias, neither patients nor doctors knew whether the injections contained Botox or saline.

In the 30 days following surgery, those who received Botox injections during heart bypass surgery had a 7% chance of developing AF, compared with 30% in patients who received saline. A year later, none of the patients who received Botox had AF, compared with 27% of the patients who received saline.

No complications from the Botox injections were reported. But complications from the bypass surgery were similar in both groups, including time in intensive care and on a breathing machine, and infection rate.

The researchers say that larger studies need to replicate the results before Botox injections can be routinely used to prevent AF after bypass surgery.

If use of Botox injections in heart bypass patients shows positive results, they could also help prevent AF in people undergoing valve repair or replacement, since about 50% of such patients also develop irregular rhythms.

Lead author Dr. Jonathan S. Steinberg, who is adjunct professor of medicine at the University of Rochester and directs the Arrhythmia Institute in the Valley Health System in Ridgewood, NJ, explains that AF increases the risk of further cardiovascular complications, lengthens hospital stays and pushes up the cost of care.

He says:

"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."

Medical News Today recently reported that childhood infections could increase the risk of heart problems later in life.