Tracking your migraines doesn't sound like a lot of fun, does it? Maybe you don't want to be reminded of migraine pain while you're feeling good. Or perhaps you just aren't into record-keeping that much.
However, tracking your migraines doesn't have to mean a lot of work, and it can help you and your doctor identify triggers and effective treatment. If you can determine your exposure to a potential trigger and find ways to avoid it, you can reduce the number of headache days you suffer. The duration and severity could be reduced substantially if you can find effective treatment.
What is a little diary-keeping next to fewer headache days and shorter, less intense migraines?
How to Track Your Migraines
Designate a notebook, phone note, or online document as a place to record your migraines (we have a free diary template here). You don’t need to track your migraines forever, so you can use that thought to motivate yourself to start. You only need to write stuff down until you understand your triggers and find the best treatment for your symptoms.
To learn if a particular treatment works, monitor the frequency of your migraine attacks against your medication use. If you aren't sure you are having a migraine attack or want to identify the type of migraine you suffer, record how you feel.
Do you need to identify triggers? You don’t need to record every little thing of your entire life. Start with a suspected trigger and look for a pattern. If you don’t see one, track a different trigger. Eventually, you’ll find out what sets off an attack.
What to Do with the Information
The best thing to do with this data is to share it with your doctor. Writing all this down can help you remember aspects of the migraine attacks. Also, having a written record keeps you from leaving out potentially important information.
Keeping data over time can help you manage your migraine condition. Lifestyle and environmental effects might appear, or you could identify a particular food or another trigger. As you make changes, keeping the migraine diary tells you if the changes are working.
What Should You Track?
While you only need to monitor things that can answer your specific concern, in general, you should keep track of the following:
- When the first migraine occurred and how long it lasted
- The severity of the pain from zero to ten
- Pre-migraine symptoms you may experience like aura
After your initial entry, start recording the frequency of your migraine attacks and how you treat them.
- Write down the time of day and day of the week the migraine begins and ends
- Note what you were doing when it started
- What did you use to try to stop it? List medications, dosages, and other remedies.
- Record how well each treatment worked
As a reminder of what to observe, follow the 3-Fs: frequency of attacks, frequency of acute medication use, and functional impairment (how much the attack impacts your life).
Record your symptoms. What does it feel like, and where specifically does your head hurt? Pain can be a dull ache, pulsing, or throbbing. You might feel the pain in your temples or behind the eyes. If it only affects one side, which side?
Write down what you see. Are you experiencing flashing lights, blind spots, or other visual disturbances like zig-zag lines?
Do you hear anything like ringing in the ears? Maybe you are sensitive to loud noises before and during the attack.
What about your sense of touch? Do you have numbness, tingling, or nausea?
Record anything out of the ordinary that you experience before and during your migraine attack and how well any remedies worked.
- How much sleep you get and an idea of your sleep patterns. When do you go to bed and get up? Do you awake often? How do you feel after sleeping?
- Any medications you take besides migraine remedies, like vitamins, supplements, and other products.
- Track the weather to see if it affects your migraine frequency, duration, or severity.
- Write down things that happen in life and at work. Are you moving through a stressful time? Do you know how often you become angry, irritated, or tense?
- What are your exercise habits? Write down what you do, like walking for 30 minutes.
- Note what and when you ate most recently before your attack.
- Identify the date of your last period.
Remember, you’re looking for patterns that can tell you what you experienced directly before a migraine attack. If you can identify an avoidable trigger, find ways to reduce your stress, or use the information to motivate exercise, you can reduce your pain and improve the quality of your life.
A migraine trigger can be anything present in your environment. Some people get migraines from too much exposure to bright lights or loud noises. Changes in the weather sometimes create the conditions for a migraine attack.
Foods and beverages are common triggers, especially caffeinated drinks, red wine, aged cheese, chocolate, dairy, nitrates, and MSG. Another way diet can trigger migraines is if you become dehydrated or don't eat on a regular schedule. Lack of sleep, too much sleep, or a disrupted sleep schedule can contribute to migraine attacks.
Not everyone suffers the same types of migraines, nor do they have the same triggers. One person might suffer from drinking a single glass of red wine, while another gets migraines after drinking too much coffee. An office worker's perfume might cause one person to develop a headache while it doesn't bother another.
Tracking your migraines helps both you and your doctor determine what may cause or worsen your pain. It helps you find the proper medication or other remedies for your migraines. And it puts control of your life back in your hands.
If you suffer migraines, try keeping a migraine diary. For more information on managing migraine pain and treatment, contact the Migraine Relief Center.