8 Tips for managing migraine on a budget:
How much did you spend on your migraine last year? $50, $500, $5000, $50,000?
In the US it is estimated that migraine costs the country $17 billion each year and most of that ($12bn) is from the pockets of people with migraine. An average person with severe migraine will spend about $300 per month on their headaches and lose about $900 per month through loss of productivity at work or home.
Here’s how you can save when you manage migraine on a budget.
1. Stop buying painkillers or ‘Triptan’ drugs
Overuse of painkillers or ‘Triptan’ drugs are the number 1 reason for ongoing severe migraine. Stopping can reduce headache by 75%.
Estimated saving: $166 per month (assumes 10 days per month of Imitrex 100mg tablets).
2. Keep Hydrated
It’s actually true that keeping a good level of hydration will improve wellbeing for people with headache – about 50% will report feeling better. Just make sure the water is clean and safe to drink. About 3 pints of water per day is about right for most adults.
Estimated saving: Difficult to quantify – depends what price you put on feeling better.
3. Regularly perform neck, jaw and shoulder exercises
A large trial from Italy showed that office workers who stretch their shoulders, neck and jaw muscles twice a day experienced 2 days less per month with headache and reduced painkiller use by 23%. Check your posture and do regular stretching of neck, shoulder and jaw 2 times a day.
Estimated saving: $154-184 per month (assumes that you place a value on your time the same as an average US worker of $76 per day, your reduced painkillers costs are on top of that – say another $2 dollars per month if using Ibuprofen or $32 per month if you were using Imitrex tablets)
4. Start walking regularly
Regular exercise like walking can be as effective as medication in preventing headaches – 30 minutes twice a week is a good start. This can reduce headaches by 30% over 2-3 months. An easy win.
Estimated saving: $77 – $92 per month (one less headache day if you experience one headache per week plus reduced medication costs). Also remember walking helps mood, strength, balance and your heart.
5. Learn how not to fear pain
If you can understand that recurrent headache pain is a false alarm, then you will cope with it much better. Many people who spend a lot of money on their migraine do not know this crucial piece of information. If you know this it will reduce your costs and help you manage migraine on a budget.
Estimated saving: Difficult to quantify – you may still have the same amount of headache but you much better prepared to cope.
6. Practise relaxation techniques
Breathing exercises that settle your pulse rate can dramatically reduce your pain levels over time. These breathing exercises are scientifically proven and are called biofeedback techniques. There are some great apps for smartphones that have made this technique really easy to get into. Recommended. Biofeedback will reduce headache frequency by about 50%.
Estimated saving: $154-184 per month (NB a typical smartphone device will set you back a one off cost of about $129 e.g. Heartmath Inner Balance for iPhone)
7. Get a Primary Care Physician (PCP or GP)- not a specialist
Yes – I’m trying to do myself out of a job, but this is true. A primary care physician is the best starting place for managing severe headaches. They will manage 99% of all headache problems really well and will be able to balance all your other health needs effectively.
Only see a headache specialist if your own PCP or GP refers you. Remember that physiotherapists (who are usually much less expensive to see than doctors) can help headaches if you have upper cervical spine hypomobility. Find out if a physiotherapist could help you.
Estimated saving: $180 per visit (Assume initial Specialist Visit $250 and PCP or Physiotherapy Visit $70, but remember PCP do less investigations than specialists, and physiotherapists do not investigate).
8. Use these common, cheaper drugs
Advertising would make you to think that branded drugs are best, but actually generic drugs offer the same benefit, often at a fraction of the cost (one twelfth in some cases). This can be a big saver if you need to manage migraine on a budget.
The most cost-effective treatment of all for migraine is Aspirin – you must check with your doctor or pharmacist that it is safe to use in your own case (some medical conditions mean that you should not use it).
Estimated saving: None – Aspirin is a brand drug but generic acetylsalicylic acid is usually about the same price!
If Aspirin (Salicylic Acid) is safe then I use 900mg of Soluble Aspirin at the start of a bad headache. The Soluble Aspirin works fastest when you chew it and allow it to be absorbed from the lining of your mouth. It leaves a bitter taste that is easily washed down with some water. Combined with an anti-sickness drug like Metoclopramide, Soluble Aspirin is as powerful as Imitrex (Imigran, Sumatriptan).
Non-branded Ibuprofen works well – again check with your pharmacist that it is safe and suitable for you, and to ask about the highest dose you can take. Ibuprofen 600mg is recommended by most professional guidelines on migraine for treatment of an acute attack.
Estimated saving: $1 for every 6 Ibuprofen tables instead of Advil tablets (according to a reputable online retailer)
Non-branded Sumatriptan tablets are probably the best balance between cost and benefit. To be honest I think this is as good as any of the other ‘Triptans’ in real life situations. Combinations of Sumatriptan and Ibuprofen or combinations of Sumatriptan and Soluble Aspirin are more powerful than each one on its own.
Estimated saving: $104 per month (Imitrex 100mg is $16 per tablet and generic sumatriptan is $3 per tablet, assumes maximum of 8 tablets per month)
Beware ‘The Nocebo Effect’
If you are scared of changing your lifestyle or of changing a branded to a non-branded drug – you should know about what psychologists call ‘The Nocebo Effect‘.
The Nocebo Effect is where your belief that something won’t work is turned into reality. If you believe that non-branded sumatriptan will not work as well as branded Imitrex (Imigran) then guess what – it probably won’t! Proper licensed non-branded drugs should work just as well as branded drugs.
Please note do not change your medication unless you have consulted your doctor or qualified pharmacist. This post is not an instruction for you to change medication. It is designed to show you how a different approach could reduce your costs if you manage migraine on a budget.
Putting these 8 steps into practice should reduce the cost of managing your migraine. They are part of my unique approach to headache called The Headache Friendly Lifestyle – an information-rich, free, online course – what your own doctor does not have time to tell you.
Feel Safe:Your First Step
Is Your Headache Dangerous?
Headache Symptoms that Matter
by Dr Raeburn Forbes MD(Hons)
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