Treating chronic migraines with behavioral approaches – such as relaxation training, hypnosis and biofeedback – could be less costly than prescription-drug treatment, according to a new study.
Dr. Donald Penzien, University of Mississippi Medical Center professor of psychiatry, coauthored the study. He said the cost of prescription prophylactic drugs – the kind chronic migraine sufferers take every day to prevent onset – may not seem much even at several dollars a day.
"But those costs keep adding up with additional doctor visits and more prescriptions," Penzien said. "The cost of behavioral treatment is front-loaded. You go to a number of treatment sessions but then that’s it. And the benefits last for years."
Study on Behavioral Treatments for Headaches
Published in the June issue of the journal Headache, the study compared the costs over time of several types of behavioral treatments with prescription-drug treatments.
The researchers found that after six months, the cost of minimal-contact behavioral treatment was competitive with pharmacologic treatments using drugs. Minimal-contact treatment is when a patient sees a therapist a few times but largely practices the behavioral techniques at home, aided by literature or audio recordings. After one year, the minimal-contact method was nearly $500 cheaper than pharmacologic treatment.
Learn about nutrition and migraines in: Food Allergies Cause Migraine Headaches
Measuring the Cost of Behavioral Treatment for Headaches
The researchers didn’t compare the effectiveness of methods, nor did they calculate the costs over time of individual drugs, since dosages and prices vary widely. Rather, they figured the per-day costs of each method based on fees of physicians and psychologists. For the physician group, they added in the cost of prescription beta-blocker drugs at various prices.
The most expensive behavioral treatment method – individual sessions with a psychologist in clinic – cost more than pharmacologic treatment with $6-a-day drugs in the first months. But at about five months, individual sessions become competitive.
Overall, group therapy and minimal-contact behavioral treatment were cost-competitive with even the cheapest medication treatment in the initial months. At one year, they become the least-expensive headache treatment choice.
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Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. Published June 2011. “Behavioral treatment for migraines a cost-effective alternative to meds, study finds.” Jack Mazurak
Grant funding from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke supported the research.