Researchers start trial to treat anxiety with Botox

A new study in the medical school is planning to treat anxiety by getting rid of wrinkles.

The School of Medicine and Health Sciences began recruiting volunteers last month to participate in a clinical trial to treat social anxiety disorder with an injection of Botox into the frown muscles between the eyes. Researchers leading the study said there aren’t many options for treating the disorder, and this study is the first step to finding a new way to help anxiety patients.

Daniel Lieberman, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the study’s lead researcher, said it is difficult for people to live with anxiety, although many people don’t know that it is a psychiatric illness.

“This illness makes it difficult to go to social events where strangers are present and can also make it difficult to give public presentations. Most people don’t know it’s a psychiatric illness. They think they’re ‘shy’ and nothing can be done about it,” he said. “Social anxiety disorder responds well to treatment, and for many people treatment is life-changing.”

Social anxiety disorder responds well to treatment, and for many people treatment is life-changing.

He said that he plans to recruit 40 volunteers who have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder.
Potential participants must take an online questionnaire to determine if they qualify for the study and then visit with a research coordinator and a psychiatrist to verify the diagnosis in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Medical Faculty Associates, he said.

Those who qualify for the study will be transported to the Chevy Chase Cosmetic Center for the injection, Lieberman said. After the injection, participants then must fill out two online questionnaires four weeks and eight weeks after the injection to measure the effects.

“We hope that the knowledge we gain from the people who participate will help other people who live with social anxiety disorder,” he said.

The currently available medications for social anxiety disorder can have negative effects on sexual functioning, but those side effects are uncommon with Botox, he said. He added that it’s possible, although not yet tested, that the new method may also help people who do not fully respond to current treatments.

Medical Faculty Associates has an anxiety disorders program, in which doctors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among others.

Lieberman said Eric Finzi, the medical director of the Chevy Chase Cosmetic Center in Chevy Chase, Md., and the other lead researcher on this study, has a patent on the use of Botox for social anxiety disorder. Finzi is one of the pioneers of using Botox to treat psychiatric illnesses, Lieberman said.

We hope that the knowledge we gain from the people who participate will help other people who live with social anxiety disorder.

Finzi said he has been researching the connection between muscles, facial expression and mental health for the past 16 years. He said frown muscles show fear, anger and anxiety, and treating them with Botox can impact those feelings.

“We think that there is very good possibility that we can help people who have social anxiety disorder by treating them with Botox by quelling the fear impulse that they might get when public speaking or when among a group of people they don’t know well,” he said.

Social anxiety disorder is a psychiatric condition causing emotional distress and isolation in social situations and affects about 20 million Americans, according to the National Comorbidity Survey Replication and the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Once in the trial, Finzi said the Botox treatment could take five minutes for the actual injection. The participants then return a month later to see if it had any impact on their anxiety, he added.

“The treatment itself is very simple and virtually pain-free. It hurts less than getting your blood drawn,” Finzi said. “We are trying to expand the systems for which we treat people.”

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