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Here's Exactly How You Should Track Your Migraines
The Benefits of Migraine Tracking
A migraine journal is useful because migraines can have many triggers — changes in the weather, stress, hormonal contraceptives or natural fluctuations in hormones because of menstrual cycles, skipping meals, and others. With so many triggers, it’s helpful to know which ones affect you.
Experts agree that people who experience migraines may have triggers that are unique to them, and that the efficacy of treatments varies from person to person. Knowing how your body experiences migraines and what exacerbates your symptoms can help drastically improve treatment by allowing it to be individualized.
“Tracking lets us know how frequently the patient has a migraine, how severe it is, and how it affects daily living,” says Dr. Cheng. “We also get insight on how effective migraine medications are when the patient is tracking regularly.”
One of the most important reasons to track migraines is to assess their frequency. Someone who experiences migraines might downplay how often they occur without realizing it, which is why a written record is critical.
“When I ask, ‘How often do you get headaches?’ the majority of patients cannot provide an answer,” says John Pettinato, DO, a neurologist at the Comprehensive Headache Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
But the frequency of your headaches can affect your treatment plan. More than eight headaches a month usually calls for daily medication, Dr. Pettinato adds.
What to Track in Your Migraine Log
There are many pieces of information that are helpful to track in your migraine journal, including:
- When the migraine first occurred
- The location of the pain
- The severity of the migraine, rated on a scale from 0 to 10
- How long the migraine lasted
- Whether any aura or sensations occurred right before the migraine
- Whether any other symptoms occurred, such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or smells, numbness or weakness, etc.
- What you ate that day
- What you did that day
- If you’re a woman — where you are in your menstrual cycle
- Any other apparent migraine trigger(s)
- What medication(s) you took
- When you took the medication(s)
- The dosage of medication(s) you took
- Whether the medication(s) provided relief
- How long relief lasted with medication
- Any home remedies you tried
Cheng understands that making these notes during a migraine might be difficult, but he advises that you at least track migraines shortly after they happen, when you can still remember all the vital information. It might seem like a lot to keep track of, but this information can help you manage migraines and can help your physician determine the best course of treatment.
If you always have your phone at hand, you may also consider using smartphone apps to help you track. Many apps allow you to send the data directly to your physician, which Cheng finds helpful. Some apps are specifically designed for migraine tracking, such as Migraine Buddy, iHeadache, and Migraine Diary. People who are sensitive to light, however, might prefer avoiding a screen and tracking on paper instead during a migraine.
“Make things easier on yourself — whatever method of tracking works for you, use it,’” says Priyanka Chaudhry, MD, a neurologist at Headache Medicine Specialists of North Texas, a partner with the Baylor Neuroscience Center in Dallas.
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