10 Reasons You Should Keep a Migraine Headache Journal
Confused About Migraine Headache Journals?
If you have seen a doctor (neurologist) or migraine headache specialist, you have likely been told to keep a migraine headache journal, but do you really know what information you need to keep
track of or what the purpose of such a journal is? In this article, I will tell you 10 reasons to keep a migraine headache journal and what information should be kept in it.
1 – Headaches vs Headache Days
The most basic information you can keep in your migraine headache journal is what day
and what time your migraine pain started. That is not enough, though. You need
to be able to track when your FIRST symptoms occurred. The date and time your
headache pain started and ended, will tell you how MANY headaches you are
having and how long they lasted, But keeping track of your first and last
symptoms, those that preceded and followed the pain, will give you the total
number of headache days you experience.
Determining how many headaches, as well as how many headaches you experience is a huge key
in diagnosis and also in determining treatment for your migraine headaches
attacks. For example, if you are experiencing 8 headaches a month that affect
you over a period of 15 or more days per month, for a period of at least 3
months, then your diagnosis would be Chronic Migraine. The faster you get
Chrinic Migraine under control, the better off you will be.
If you are having 4 or less migraine headache attacks lasting less than 15 days per month,
then you may only need a rescue medication rather than a more involved preventative
treatment, especially if you respond well to the rescue medication. You may
even be able to control most of your migraine headache attacks by determining
and managing your triggers.
Keeping track of your migraine headache attacks from the first symptom to the last,
including recovery time gives you a picture of the full impact of your
migraines. Knowing the full impact of your migraine headache attacks as well as
the number of headaches you experience, will aid both you and your doctor going
forward. It helps you to know what your limitations are and will help you work
with your doctor or specialist in determining treatment.
2 – A Question of Diagnosis
By keeping track of what specific days you have migraine headache attacks will also help
you and your doctor/specialist to determine if there is a cycle to your
migraines. By keeping track of events that happen around your migraine headache
attacks, will uncover clues to whether there are things going on, such as your
menstrual cycle if you or a woman, or perhaps a monthly board meeting at work,
that are acting as triggers.
This information will give you these cycles, and also aids in finding treatment options that
will help you to effectively manage your migraine headache attack or, perhaps,
you can avoid them altogether. Going back to the example of a female who
experiences migraines around her monthly menstrual cycle, she is likely
experiencing menstrual migraine and going on birth control could be the key to
control. Sorry men, but you can also experience hormonal changes that could be
triggering attacks, such as Low-T, and treatment for whatever is causing your
imbalance will be the key to your control.
If you are experiencing migraines around a regular stressful event, such as the example of
the monthly board meeting, then learning relaxation techniques and better
methods of stress control could be what gives you freedom from migraine
suffering. Sometimes, it is not so much the stressor, but how you deal with
that stressor that will gain you freedom. Changing your behaviors can be the
trick to control. You may need to avoid the drinks after completing a big
project at work. Coping techniques can be changed. You might be surprised at
what a change in your behavior will do for you. It can be better for you than
any medication on the market.
3 – Timing is Everything
We have learned the importance of the number of days and of which days in the month in
diagnosing and treating migraine headache attacks. The time of day that your
migraine headache attacks begin are telling as well. Keeping track of the times
of the day that your migraine symptoms and the pain begins will help your
doctor to diagnose the type of migraine and it may help you determine the
trigger of your migraine as well.
For example, if you wake up with a migraine after a day that included a period of
physical exertion, you may need to stop being so enthusiastic at the gym. Don’t
get me wrong, exercise is good, but too much physical exertion can trigger the
agony. If you find that you are getting migraine headache attacks in the
evening before you go to bed, after a night or two of little sleep, then your
trigger might well be a poor amount, or even quality, of sleep. Your doctor or
specialist can help you to determine these things if you keep a good migraine
headache journal. They can help you find ways to avoid these triggers as well.
4 – Environmental Culprits
Keeping track of the weather and things light the pollen count can also help you and
your doctor determine if your triggers are environmental in nature. Any factors
that impact the space you live, breathe, and work in can have a direct impact
on your attacks.
I have a friend who, while she doesn’t have overt allergy symptoms, suffers migraine
headache attacks every time that the pollen count goes above the moderate
range. She now uses antihistamines when the count creeps up, which fends off
most all her migraines.
My husband swears I am a better predictor of how badly an approaching weather system will affect
our area than the weatherman. If you think that there is nothing that you can
do about how the weather affects you, you would be wrong There are steps that
you can take and there are earplugs that you can wear that will equalize the
pressure to your brain. A good headache specialist can help you in determining
what will work for you, but only if you have kept track of the weather in your
migraine headache journal.
When recording environmental factors, be sure to include things like time spent in
bright areas or out on sunny days, time spent in poor lighting, time spent in
dusty areas or areas with a lot of pet dander, or days with poor air quality –
anything that could affect your senses or the air you breathe in. It could pay
off in the long run.
5 – Before, During and After, What you Felt Matters
So what about those prodromal and postdrome symptoms? Are they really that important to
write down? You bet they are! All the symptoms you experience will help your
doctor or specialist determine what type(s) of migraine you are experiencing.
The more aware you are of your symptoms, the sooner you can take action to stave off the
pain. Many migraine rescue medications, such as triptans, work better if taken
at the onset of the migraine. When you should take it is something to discuss
with your migraine professional but being well aware of your symptoms will help
you to better treat your migraines.
Resting for another few hours after your migraine rather than jumping up the moment
that the pain subsides may keep you from experiencing a bounce-back migraine. I
know it sounds as if that is easier said than done, but it is true. Why lose
another day or two when a few more hours of rest could avoid that suffering in
the first place?
No one is going to know your symptoms better than you AND the people around you. My
family is sometimes better at predicting the onset of my migraine than I am.
You need to communicate with those you spend your time around. They may be able
to assist you in keeping track of symptoms such as changes in mood, affect, or
even physical signs you may not be aware of. My right eye will start drooping
long before I feel the first signs of an impending attack. Once you are made
aware of these things, write them down. It all matters!
6 – Food Culprits
Food is one of the major culprits in triggering migraine headache attacks. What you eat
isn’t all you need to track, though. What time you ate it matters just as much.
And be honest with yourself about what times you did or didn’t eat. Skipping
meals or snacks can bring on the suffering just as quickly as what you ate, if
The best way to determine if you have food triggers is to eliminate any foods that can
trigger migraine for a good period of time (ask your migraine specialist how
long they feel is best), and then to gradually introduce the offenders one by
one for a period of time. It is best to keep track of what and when you
reintroduce possible food triggers. This is the best way to keep track of what
acts as a trigger and what does not.
Keeping track this way will mean you will not have to repeat the process over a period
of years. Yes, the process can take time and effort, but wouldn’t your rather
find out that foods such as smoked meats and red wine are your trigger than to
go on medications that could bring a lot of uncomfortable side effects? I
learned the hard way. You don’t have to.
Read more about food triggers HERE.
7 – This Bear Repeating: Patterns Mean Everything
Keeping track of your migraine headaches attacks in a migraine headache journal will
reveal patterns to your migraines that you may never have realized were there.
Not only does this help in determining triggers that could be avoided, but it
aids in diagnosis.
This is especially true if you suffer Chronic Migraine. You may also be having
different types of migraines which require a more sophisticated treatment plan.
Tracking your symptoms for the prodrome to the postdrome will help your specialist
in determining the type(s) of migraine you have, even if you are having attacks
nearly every day. This information also reveals clues as to how to treat them.
Even if there is a migraine trigger that cannot be avoided, being prepared for the
impending attack will help you cut down on the duration of the pain. For
example, I receive treatments every four weeks for another medical condition
that inevitably brings on an attack. I have learned coping techniques over time
and receive medications before and during the treatments that have cut the
duration of the pain to a few hours rather then the refractory migraines I used
to get with the treatments.
8 – Talking Points
Keeping a migraine headache journal will make you and your medical professional experts on
your migraine headaches. This increases the communication with your specialist,
which in turn leads to better, more effective treatments. It is important to
communicate in this manner and even in the same language. You will learn new
terms and your specialist will learn to speak to you in terms that you
understand. Your migraine headache journal is an excellent tool to use to
It is also important to talk to those in your life, family and friends, who could assist
you during your migraine attacks. Knowing how to communicate your needs to them
can assist them to help you during the attacks. It also helps coworkers to take
the load off your shoulders during these times. Be sure that you also
communicate your appreciation of their efforts. A lack of communication with
your migraine headache support network, especially the feelings of
appreciation, can lead to hurt feeling and resentment later on.
9 – Ease in Determining Treatments
Now that you have all this information and you have increased the quality of
communication with your specialist and your network, it will be easier to
determine which treatments will be necessary to help you avoid as many headache
days as possible and to communicate what needs you have that can be fulfilled
by others when you are suffering.
Remember that treatment includes self-help measures that can be done, as well as
medications your doctor may deem helpful. Being able to understand all your
symptoms and the patterns that your migraine occur in can cut years of trial
and error for you and the medical professional you come into contact with.
This is true whether it is the medical professional(s) you generally see for your
migraines as well as any emergency care you may have to seek. Think refractory
headaches. Knowing what measures, you have already taken as well as the times
you have taken them and when and how the migraine came on can save you a lot of
time at the hospital.
tracking and sharing this information will cause aggravation in you and your
doctors, and will greatly increase the time until you experience freedom from
10 – Tracking the Effectiveness of Your Treatment Efforts
Once you have started taking medication, it is important to record what you take, how
much you take, and when you take it. Whether you are taking a rescue medication
or are on a prophylactic (preventative) medication (like an antidepressant, anticonvulsant,
antihistamine or even birth control), it is important that you keep track of
this information. This can be invaluable when it comes to adjusting dosages or
even abandoning a treatment altogether.
You will also want to record any self-help measures you take, such as ice treatments or
aromatherapy. Even retiring to a dark room to lie down or try to sleep can help
you put together a “migraine tool kit.” Knowing what works and
communicating it to people in your support network aids them in knowing what to
do for you. Why continue to take something that does not work?
As you can see, a migraine headache journal is important part
of finding an end to the suffering you are experiencing. They give your doctor
or specialist important information that aids in diagnosing your migraine
headache types and determining treatment measures. It helps you to determine
your triggers and devise a plan on how these might be avoided. It will also
help you to know what is working and what isn’t and how to communicate your needs
not only to the medical professionals, but also to your migraine support
network (family, friends, and coworkers).
The more information you keep in your migraine headache
journal, the faster you can unlock the secrets to your suffering and find
freedom from it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Time and effort will pay off
though in the long run.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope
that you have learned some strategies here that will help you find freedom from
As always, I want to hear from you. What are your thoughts
and experiences with migraine headache journals? Do you have any questions, or would you like me to clarify anything for you? Perhaps you have personal experience or strategies you would like to share with others.
Comment below and
let’s continue the conversation!