By Dr. Adams Scott
A headache diary is a very important tool that can help you to work together with your doctor in diagnosing your headache and identifying its root cause. Many people have neglected the importance of tracking the length, frequency and characteristics of their headache attacks which can sometimes hold the answer to treating the bad headaches.
At the end of this document, you can find a link to a sample headache journal which you can reuse or modify according to your needs.
What Is It For?
A common reason to why some people are put off by the idea of keeping a headache diary is because the thought of taking notes in the midst of a terrible headache is too tedious; they are not aware that the diary can actually help them and their doctors to determine if medications or other treatments are working well. Having a diary is also very helpful in identifying the causes of headaches.
Since migraine is the most common type of primary headache disorders, most headache diaries will emphasize more about recording its relating information.
Before You Start
Keeping headache diaries can be as simple as taking notes on a calendar or draft paper or as complicated as recording the data into a computer software or spreadsheet.
With the modern technologies nowadays, you can even use gadgets such as your smart phones or the Apple IPad as a headache journal. Make sure that you choose a method which is the easiest for you and one which you are most likely to do. You should also carry the diary with you at all times in case your headaches strike without warnings.
The best time to log your headaches is as soon as the pain resolves or subsides to a manageable level. You can also take spoken notes with a small audio recorder and then transfer the information to your diary later. To avoid missing out any important details, try not to wait for too long before you record each headache attack.
It is important to be patient and you should be consistent in your entries. Try not to skip any days and remember to include all the basic information; otherwise, your diary will not be very helpful. You may also see yourself recording the diary data for several months if you have infrequent headaches. Remember, the more details you track, the more useful your diary will become.
Work With Your Doctor
Although a headache diary, coupled with professional help will be very effective in treating your headaches; you should not attempt to self diagnose your headaches alone based on the data. Always seek help from your doctor first before you attempt any kind of treatments.
With the information, your doctor will be able to provide a correct diagnosis as well as to recommend treatments that are effective.
How It May Affect Your Quality of Life
It is an undeniable fact that your quality of life will be affected if you are suffering from chronic headaches. This should be communicated with your doctor during the first appointment and let him or her know how your headaches are interfering with your daily activities.
Your doctor can then prescribe a suitable treatment that fits your existing lifestyle. As an example, doctors may try to avoid certain drugs that could impair concentration or induce drowsiness for cab drivers.
If your job requires you to work late night hours or shift work, then the headaches and medications will certainly have noticeable impact to your life. Sometimes, your doctor may advice you to avoid working late night hours – of course, this is very subjective and may not be possible for some people.
Work With Your Doctor Proactively
Try to attend all appointments with your doctor with an open mind and discard any preconceived notions about your headache causes. Share the information in your diary openly with your doctor and speak to him or her like an old friend.
Spend some time discussing about the findings from the recorded information as well as identifying the possible root causes. Remember, the main point here is to stay positive with an open mindset. Otherwise, you will make the diagnosis more difficult since you are not open to any suggestions from your doctor.
If you wish to be on the safe side, you can also seek out a second opinion from another doctor to confirm the treatment plan or diagnosis.
Information to Log
Try to keep the headaches diary as comprehensive as possible by keeping track of the events and symptoms surrounding each headache episode. Think of this as a lifestyle and health journal – keeping track of information such as exercise, activities, sleep, food and stress.
For a start, a simple diary could contain the following basic information:
History of Headache Episodes
One of the main purposes of keeping the diary is to track the history of all your headaches. These details will be very useful when you visit a doctor for headache remedies; show your doctor the diary if he or she asked for medical history.
Check out the recommended information to capture in this section:
Spot the Trends
If you have tracked your headaches for at least 8 weeks, you should be able to see should trends surfacing – both relating to nature of your headaches as well as the events around them.
It should be easy for you to see the usual length and intensity of your headaches as well as the pre or post headache symptoms.
The 2 noticeable trends or patterns that will emerge are:
One of the important aspects of keeping headache diaries is that it can help to identify your headache triggers.
Once you have identified a critical list of triggers, you can avoid them as part of your headache treatment. There are 4 main headache triggers that you should take note of:
- Beverages – Common ones are drinks that contain caffeine. Depending on the amount and frequency of intake, caffeine can relieve or induce headaches. Alcohol is another culprit.
- Foods – Certain type of foods may induce headaches for some people and this usually varies between different people. However, these triggers may be more difficult to identify since we normally eat a mixed meal consisting of several foods at mealtimes.
- Lifestyle – Usually related to work conditions, stressful situations, and lack of sleep, etc
- Sensory – Smells, sounds or lights can all be potential headaches triggers
For some people, they may only experience headaches at certain time of the day, with consistent intensity and location of pain. Take note of any patterns that are emerging; all these are helpful information that can help your doctor to do a proper diagnosis.
The common patterns are:
- Headache with vomiting and nausea
- Pain is one-sided or both
- Pain may get worse with physical activities
- Sensory sensitivity
- Felt better by resting in dark and quiet room
- Duration from a few hours to 3 days
Accessing the Treatments
It will be pointless to keep a headache diary if the effectiveness of the applied treatments is not recorded. As your progress, record details of all your prescriptions and any over-the-counter drugs that you take.
Some of the information that you may wish to record here includes:
- Name of drug
- How effective is it in alleviating the pain (Pain totally gone or just with lessened intensity)
- How long does it take to see the effects
- Does the drug effective throughout the headache episode
- Noticeable side effects
It is important to take note of the name of any drug that you take together with its respective dosage. Excessive use of certain drugs can actually lead to rebound headaches and can worsen the current condition. Do note that an over dosage can sometimes lead to an increased tolerance to the medication as well.
Never increase your medication dosage in hopes to alleviate the pain faster; always consult your doctor first before changing the dosage of any medications. Refer back to your headache diary constantly for any signs of medication overuse.
Each time when you start on a new medication, always start to watch out if you experience anything abnormal. These symptoms may include feeling tired, dizzy or pain the chest, etc. If you encounter any side effects, then record this information immediately.
Sometimes, these side effects may lessen over time; try to pay attention to how intense they were and how they were impacting your daily activities.
Sample Headache Diary
In this section, you will find a headache journal template which you can use for most types of headaches. You can download it and use it as it is or use it as a sample to create one that suits your needs.