When it first started, I chalked it up to normal heartburn: I’d lie down for bed, feel my esophagus light up and settle in for the nightly barrage of burps I’d begun to expect. I figured it was just because I was eating later in the day, closer to bedtime. My work schedule made me hungry at night.

But then, the symptoms didn’t stop. For months. And the more I fretted about my strange symptoms, the more severe and relentless they became. I knew it was time to get a professional opinion.

Unfortunately, that professional opinion didn’t put my mind to rest. I was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease, otherwise known as GERD. I received medication, but I didn’t want to be on medication for the rest of my life. I knew there had to be a better way.

Advocating for your wellness — and your wallet

At this point in my journey, I knew my doctors were focused on managing my symptoms, but I was more interested in understanding the cause underlying them. Instead of taking a pill forever and waiting for the side effects to surface, I wanted to learn how I might manage my illness more naturally through lifestyle changes.

Thanks to my work in the pharmaceutical industry as part of a branding firm, I knew there was a major difference between slapping a bandage on the problem and actually treating the wound. And in order to treat the wound, I knew I needed to see a specialist, so I asked my physician for a referral. 

Of course, close-up examination — in my case, an upper endoscopy — comes at a cost. According to my health insurance company’s website, the procedure could cost as much as $1,500 out of pocket. I’d already noticed an increased copay at the three regular doctors’ appointments I’d had so far, and that wasn’t counting the consultation with the gastroenterologist. 

I ended up using most of my tax refund on appointments and medications, and I counted myself lucky to have gotten a refund in the first place. I could easily see myself driving up my balance and damaging my credit score if I had to turn to credit cards for my medical bills. 

I knew I needed to figure out a better system for the long term.

So I started advocating for my financial wellness. I looked over my insurance paperwork and saw that I was eligible to open a health savings account, or HSA. By making regular contributions (which my employer matched) and being strategic with scheduling my endoscopy, I was able to pay for it without too much financial strain.

And wouldn’t you know it, that endoscopy came back with fairly mild signs of inflammation. I’d be able to manage my symptoms going forward by avoiding certain foods and taking an occasional medicine as needed.

Which is to say: It was all totally worth it.

How to get the medical answers you need — without going broke

If you’re struggling with your own medical mystery, or are unsatisfied with a surface-level understanding of your ailment and a rest-of-your-life medication, you can become your own fierce advocate, too. 

Here are my tips for getting the medical answers you deserve while also keeping as much of your money as possible in your pocket.

1. Do your research

While it’s important to trust the expertise of medical professionals, doing some of your own research on your condition can help you have more efficient, comprehensive conversations once you’re in the doctor’s office — and can help you request the specific diagnostic procedures you need to really know what’s going on. 

Along with the Google rabbit hole, community forums like Facebook groups and, of course, ThriveGlobal are great places to get insight by way of others in a similar situation.

2. Get familiar with your finances

Medical bills are, unfortunately, an easy way to go into debt — in fact, as a nation, our medical debts could total a whopping $140 billion, with a B. 

That’s exactly why it’s so important to take a close look at your finances to ensure you’ve got all the coverage possible. Double-check your insurance paperwork: Can you open an HSA? Is a more thorough plan available at a slightly higher monthly premium? If you already have some medical debt, you might be able to do a balance transfer onto a card with a 0% interest introductory period, if your credit score is high enough.

This step is about more than just staying afloat in the short term. Being proactive about medical savings unlocks the option to advocate for yourself. You’re far less likely to seek out expensive (but important) procedures if you can’t see a way to afford them.

3. Take lifestyle changes seriously

Sometimes, the least-invasive maintenance methods are the most effective — and the most affordable. So once you have a diagnosis, continue to move toward a healthy lifestyle that can help minimize discomfort and damage to your body in the long term. 

While we’re all human and apt to mess up from time to time, you can always jump right back on that horse, and you’ll thank yourself down the line when you’re feeling better and saving money.