Over-the-Counter Drugs work as well as prescriptions


Instead of Ambien (or generic zolpidem), Lunesta (eszopiclone), or Rozerem (ramelteon)

Go OTC Benadryl, Nytol, Sominex (or generic diphenhydramine)

Save as much as $47 a week

Why switch? OTC antihistamines that contain diphenhydramine can cause sedation and sleepiness as a side effect, temporarily helping to relieve mild insomnia. Although relatively inexpensive and easy to buy, they can also cause unwanted side effects, including next-day drowsiness, confusion, constipation, dry mouth, and trouble urinating. But keep in mind that prescription medications can come with their own disturbing side effects.

When to see a doctor If your insomnia lasts three or more nights a week for at least a month, schedule an appointment with your physician.

Prevent it in the first place Cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy where you single out and replace thoughts and behaviors that are or causing you problems, can improve sleep habits. Also, try exercising and avoid alcohol, caffeine, and smoking. And keep in mind that certain prescription drugs can cause insomnia. So can using a computer or smart phone or watching TV right before bedtime. Other things that can make you toss and turn at night include inconsistent sleep and wake-up times (on weekends, for example) and late-day napping. Finally, if you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing, like reading, until trying to catch your zzz’s again.

Joint pain

Instead of Celebrex (celecoxib)

Go OTC The NASIDs Advil or Motrin IB (or generic ibuprofen), Aleve (or generic naproxen), or the non-NASID Tylenol (or generic acetaminophen)

Save as much as $265 a month

Why switch? These anti-inflammatory drugs block the production of substances in the body called prostaglandins, which play a role in aches and pain, inflammation, fever, and muscle cramps. At low doses, NASIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) essentially work as pain relievers. At higher doses they can actually reduce the body’s inflammatory response to tissue damage as well as relieve pain. Studies show the nonprescription NASIDs are as effective as Celebrex.

When to see a doctor If you take these drugs for longer than 10 days or the recommended doses on the label aren’t effective, make an appointment. Prolonged use of these drugs can cause side effects including gastrointestinal bleeding, stomach ulcers, kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke. So consider taking Tylenol first.

Prevent it in the first place Regular stretching, exercise, and muscle strengthening can help prevent joint pain.

Lower back pain

Instead of Long-acting opioid pain medication, such as OxyContin (or generic oxycodone)

Go OTC The NASIDs Advil (or generic ibuprofen) and Aleve (or generic naproxen), or non-NASID Tylenol (or generic acetaminophen)

Save as much as $115 a month

Why switch? Unlike opioid painkillers, which block signals to the brain, these NASIDs reduce pain by inhibiting the release of a certain enzyme that produces hormones that cause inflammation. For milk to moderate chronic pain, studies show that NASIDs work about as well as opioid drugs and are less risky. Opioids are only moderately effective and little is known about their long-term effects. Also, they don’t always completely eliminate pain; can cause side effects like nausea, constipation, sedation, and dizziness; and can cause your body to build up a tolerance so that you need increasingly higher doses, raising the risk of side effects. And they can actually increase your body’s sensitivity to pain and lead to addiction. To treat lower back pain, try nondrug treatments like exercise, physical therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Acupuncture, massage, or yoga may help, too.

When to see a doctor If pain lasts longer than a week or two, radiates down your leg, or is accompanied by leg weakness, call your physician. Also be aware that NASIDs have been linked with gastrointestinal bleeding, stomach ulcers, kidney failure, heart attacks, and strokes. So you may want to consider Tylenol, a non-NASID, first. NASIDs can also aggravate high blood pressure.

Prevent it in the first place Clinical studies have found that exercise can help prevent non-acute back pain. try water and walking workouts as well as aerobic exercise, weight training,a nd muscle endurance and stretching exercises.

Migraine headaches

Instead of Imitrex (or sumatriptan) or Maxalt (rizatriptan)

Go OTC Advil or Motrin IB (or generic ibuprofen), Aleve (or generic naproxen), or the combination products Excedrin Extra Strength, Excedrin Migraine (or generic acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine)

Save as much as $31 a week

Why switch? These OTCs have been shown in studies to help some people who suffer from migraines.

When to see a doctor Even if the OTC drugs ease your pain, you should still see a physician for a diagnosis if your migraines are moderate to severe in intensity, or they disrupt your life, or if the meds listed above don’t provide relief. Also be aware that overusing these OTC painkillers can sometimes cause rebound headaches, where the pain can persist and become more frequent over time.

Prevent it in the first place Figure out what prompts your migraines. Culprits can include alcohol, caffeine, certain kinds of cheese, dehydration, plane rides, skipping meals, or stress.

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