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The Headache Series - Part Two: How To Keep A Headache Diary

Updated on September 21, 2015

What Is a Headache Diary?

A headache diary is a recorded timeline of factors involved in your headache experience. Like a traditional diary holds a written record of your life, a headache diary stores charted entries of your headache life. Proper use of a headache diary allows you to be able to identify any trends; such as day of the week, time of the month, food or beverage contributions, etc. The method behind pinpointing these patterns allows one to look for opportunities to hone in on and possibly eliminate contributing factors. During the clinical workup of my headaches my doctor required me to keep a headache diary. She wanted to see if we could identify any sources of what might be contributing to my ailment. We both agreed, based on my personal preference, it would be preferable to treat from a preventative standpoint without resorting to medications if possible.

As I have stated previously, I need to include a very serious disclaimer: If you have headaches - this article is not meant to be diagnostic or a cure. I highly encourage you to see your doctor for professional guidance and treatment.

What I would like to share with you here the key components to a quality headache diary, and how it can be used for the successful treatment and prevention of headaches.

Example Of Headache Diary App

Pick Your Format

There are several options for chronicling your headaches. Pick one that fits easily into your lifestyle. You will need to be able to access your diary conveniently and spend a decent amount of time to include all of the necessary documentation.

  • Journal - This method is perfect for anyone who really just prefers good old fashion paper and pen. I caution you to make sure the journal you select has ample space to be able to include all of the relevant details. I was tempted in the beginning to try to use a simple calendar planner, but I quickly realized there was not enough space for the details of my routine planning and all of the headache details that a quality record entails.
  • Spreadsheet - Excellent choice for the Type A personalities of the world. Be warned however that you will need an effective key to your own notes if you find yourself attempting to fit large definitions into small spaces.
  • App - This was the choice for me. I am on a woman on the go and one of the few consistencies in my hectic schedule is my smartphone. The headache diary app allows for quick access and complete charting of my headache episodes, and later allows for robust and speedy analysis that neither a spreadsheet or journal are capable of. I have provided a demo video here of a headache app for your reference.


Recording Your Headache

I cannot stress the importance of thorough documentation of your headaches. This will be useful in helping your healthcare provider determine the type(s) of headaches you may be having in order to determine the best treatment. Proper recording can also help to identify patterns which may highlight factors which might be preventable. I encourage you to make your entries as soon as possible after the headache starts to have the most accurate details fresh in your mind.

  • Date - The date is important because it helps to compile the number of headaches you are having weekly and monthly. This also will help to identify if there is a certain day of the week which is a high frequency day for headaches for you. For me this day was Thursday. Initially I was very surprised to learn this. However upon a deeper analysis into the schedule of my life I was able to determine why Thursday might be a high frequency day for me. Little assessments like this can add up to big changes to help to prevent headaches.
  • Time - Time of day should be recorded also to determine if a pattern is occurring. You may be surprised to see a correlation between the occurrence of your headaches, and say the middle of the afternoon when you are likely beginning to feel tired, blood sugar may be dropping, caffeine wearing off, or a number of other possibilities.
  • Severity - You will want to rank the level of pain you are experiencing on a scale that you are comfortable with. For me a simple 1 - 10 pain scale works. 0 being pain free and 10 being the worst pain you've ever felt in your life.
  • Location - Is your headache occurring on one side or the other? The front of your head or the back? Behind one eye? Recording the location is especially helpful as your healthcare provider is going to want to make sure there may not be an undetected underlying issue.
  • Description of Pain - Make note of what the pain feels like. It might be throbbing, searing, dull, stabbing, etc.
  • Effects on Lifestyle - Does the headache cause a distraction that prevents you from focusing on your work? Are you unable to attend your child's sporting event? Is it keeping you from being able to follow through on the serious discussion you had promised to have with your spouse? Be sure to make note of all of the consequences of the headache.
  • Side Effects - Jot down the side effects you experience. This may include nausea, dizziness, visual changes, insomnia, etc.
  • Duration - Record how long the headache lasts. I've had headaches that vary in duration from an hour or two to several days. This will be part of your journal that you will have to go back to and finish once the headache is finally gone.
  • Triggers - Write down anything you think may have contributed to your headache. For me the most common contributing factors tend to be a combination of stress, dehydration, and lack of overall preventive health maintenance including proper diet and exercise.
  • Medication/Intervention - List the medication you took, how many, and how it affected your headache. For example, if you took two x 500 milligram acetaminophen tablets, did they decrease the severity of your pain according to the scale you use? If you didn't take medication but used a different intervention, such as heat or cold therapy, be sure to record how effective the therapy was or was not.

Analyze The Data

After you have kept a headache diary for a couple weeks or so, start to look for patterns in your headache experience. The headache diary app shown above has incredible reporting capabilities that allows you to quickly view charts of your own data. Identifying recurring patterns may motivate you to make some changes to your life to prevent headaches from occurring. For example, are you frequently citing sleep disturbances as possible triggers on high frequency headache days? If so, you might consider examining your bedtime routine and sleep schedule to see if changes need to be made to possibly prevent headaches.

Once you have a month or two of data, I highly encourage you to seek proper medical guidance for a formal consultation and additional treatment options.

Headache Diary Poll

After reading this article - will you consider using a headache diary?

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A headache diary is an essential tool for creating a plan to prevent and treat your headaches. I hope you have found this information to be helpful. Most of all, I hope if you suffer from any of the pain or debilitating effects of headaches, that you find some form of effective relief from your suffering.

Feel free to leave a comment below if this information has been helpful to you, or if there is a topic about headaches you would like me to write about.


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