One of the most frustrating things about the throbbing pain of a horrible migraine is having no clue what caused it — and therefore not knowing how to possibly stop it from happening again.
Keeping a migraine diary could be the tool that helps you finally identify those agonizing triggers and the warning signs that a headache is on the horizon.
According to Dr. Joey Gee, DO, FAHS, a neurologist with Mission Hospital in Southern California, anyone who suffers from recurring headaches is recommended to keep a migraine diary. This detailed log, over a two- to three-month span, can help you and your doctor determine if your migraines have a specific pattern, as well as if there is a certain trigger or combination of triggers that result in a headache.
"Plus, the diary can help you and your doctor determine possible treatments while also monitoring whether or not they work," Dr. Gee adds.
As far as what's in a migraine diary, Dr. Gee says it's important to document if you did anything differently before a migraine attack.
"For example, do you get a migraine when you skip or delay a meal? Do they occur after finishing a specific exercise routine? Or do you think that they might occur due to a change in the weather?"
In addition, Dr Gee notes that migraine diaries might include the following details:
- When your headache symptoms started
- The date of each headache
- Time of day you tend to develop headaches
- The frequency of the headaches (e.g. how many times a week)
- Type of pain (e.g. throbbing, piercing) and location
- Any other symptoms related to the headache (e.g. nausea, vision problems)
- The length of your migraine
- What you do to treat your migraine
- If you have any other aches and pains that might contribute to your headache
- Sensory overload – sights, sounds, and other stimuli you come into contact with, such as fireworks
- Whether or not you consistently drink enough water
- Strong odors
- Eye strain, such as staring too long at a computer screen, tablet, or smartphone
As a rule, the more detailed the diary, the better.
You don't need to spend any money on a specific type of notebook, either.
"It's simple to keep a migraine diary — it doesn't need to be a journal-like format," Dr. Gee says. "The diary can also be kept on sheets of paper, one for each day of the week. And, there are many headache diary smartphone and tablet apps that make it easy to track your symptoms, the length of each migraine, and more."
To determine if this is the right practice for you, bring up the idea of journaling your symptoms and the details associated with the pain with your physician.