Migraines cost Singapore more than S$1 billion in 2018: Duke-NUS study

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Here’s a real headache that won’t go away.

A new study published by Duke-NUS Medical School and Novartis has revealed that migraines cost Singapore a whopping S$1.04 billion in 2018.

According to the study “Economic Burden of Migraine in Singapore”, 80 per cent of this cost was due to a loss of productivity, while the remaining 20 per cent was healthcare cost, such as medical tests and consultations.

The study, which focused on quantifying the economic burden of migraines, surveyed 606 migraine patients in Singapore. It found that healthcare expenses – medical tests, alternative medicine, consultation, hospitalisation, and medications – and loss in productivity – missed work days or impacts on capacity to carry out daily jobs – added up to the cost associated with migraine.

The research identified two groups of people with migraine who are also full-time employees in Singapore. The first group, referred to as “lower end episodic migraine”, were patients with three or less migraine days per month. This group incurred a S$5,040 per capial cost in 2018.

The second group, “upper end episodic migraine’”, comprised migraine sufferers who had four to 14 migraine days a month. This group incurred per capial cost of S$14,860.

On average, migraine sufferers here missed 9.8 work days a year. Those who went to work with a migraine had greatly reduced abilities to perform their tasks, causing losses in productivity time of about 7.4 days a year, the report said.

While healthcare costs did not contribute a majority of the economic burden, the spending pattern indicated the need for more accurate diagnosis and effective treatment, the report said. Participants of the study revealed that the largest contributor to healthcare cost was medical tests (41 per cent), followed by alternative medications (18 per cent), consultations (16 per cent), hospitalisations (13 per cent) and medication (11 per cent).

“Our results show that the impact of migraine goes beyond the individual,” Dr Eric Finkelstein, Professor at the health services and systems research programme at Duke-NUS Medical School, and co-author of the study, said.

“We believe that knowing the estimated total costs of migraine, both in terms of monetary value and productivity levels, will drive further research into this health issue, catalyse conversations and support measures towards addressing a problem that impacts our society as a whole,” he said.

What is a migraine?

Migraine is a common and recurrent neurological disorder characterised by unilateral headaches of moderate to severe intensity that typically last between four and 72 hours.

It is often accompanied by a wide array of symptoms such as nausea, sensitivity to light, sound and routine physical activity.

Mostly affecting individuals aged 30-40, approximately 90 per cent of people with migraine experience their first attack before age 40.

In Singapore, migraine affects up to 10 per cent of the population, with about 100 new patients added every month at the patient referral clinic for headache disorders at the National University Hospital (NUH).

According to Dr Jonathan Jia Yuan Ong, president of the headache society of Singapore and consultant at the division of neurology at National University Hospital, one in four patients in Singapore do not seek medical treatment for their migraine.

“For those who do try to manage the condition, they typically resorted to acute medications which may not be the most effective strategy in the long term, adding to their overall healthcare costs,” he said.

“Given the cost and productivity losses, the study indicates that the current coping strategies adopted by patients are ineffective. Public and private organisations and employers must explore options together, in order to help patients cope better with the symptoms,” Celine Landie, managing director of Novartis Singapore and Asian emerging markets, said.

Some of the options that employers can explore include designing more supportive work policies or driving workplace culture changes that educate the workforce about migraine, she said.

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