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How Can I Keep a Migraine Journal During a Migraine Attack?

Migraine attacks bring with them a myriad of symptoms that debilitate patients for hours, or days. A Migraine is NOT just a headache, but a body-wide phenomenon. The best place we can go for help is a headache specialist. These are doctors who have received specialized training in diagnosis and treatment of headaches and Migraine Disease.

One of the most important things your headache specialist will ask that you do is to keep a Migraine Journal. If you haven’t seen a headache specialist yet, now is a great time to begin keeping a Migraine Journal so you’ll have it already completed for your first appointment, saving lots of time.

Triggers can often be identified with careful analysis of several months of journaling. Even clues to how you are reacting to specific medications can often be seen at a glance in a Migraine Journal. A Migraine Journal may reveal things about you, your lifestyle and your Migraine attacks that can lead to better treatment and more consistent management of your disease. Since this is our goal, a Migraine Journal is then our very good friend.

In a nutshell, Migraine Journals are very important tools.

In the forum, a patient asked “How do people maintain a journal when they have a migraine? I can’t even dial a phone for help or call in sick.” Click the link and join in the discussion!

Some tips on your Migraine Journal

A Migraine Journal is not like a personal diary. There are not a lot of requirements for writing here. Basic, simple facts are the key, and K.I.S.S. is a good acronym to help both you and your doctor where this is concerned… Keep It Simple Sweetie 🙂

Keeping it simple and basic is one reason why using a template for a journal can be so helpful, and this is my number one tip. It makes it easier for your doctor to read as well, and in the end, the journal is as much for him/her as it is for you. If it’s not easy to figure out, and full of bare facts, important things can be lost to the reader. This is not good.

Be ready to scribble things like the time you first felt like an attack was imminent. If you are in the middle of an attack, do what you can to write down the basic facts your doctor wants, but that’s all. If you can’t write yourself there are options:

  • ask someone else — a friend, spouse, child etc – to do it for you.
  • Use a micro-recorder to remind yourself of the details if you need. Keep this micro-recorder in your Migraine Tool Bag so it’s easy to find.
  • Use voice recognition on your phone to call someone and give them the details, or leave yourself a voice mail message, or message your own answering machine.
  • Text yourself and transcribe it to the journal later when you are able.
  • If you are totally incapacitated, use voice recognition software (available for cheap) to create a note or an email to yourself.
  • I have been known to use my special locked twitter account to keep my statistics in real time. I can’t see when I have an aura, but I know where those buttons on the computer and phone are by heart and writing down a time of onset or a time I took my meds takes 5 keystrokes at most. Even if I don’t hit them right on, they’re pretty easy to decipher when the attack has resolved itself.
  • Use what you have. There are times my family has come home to lipstick on the mirror in giant letters because that was all I could see. It gets transcribed into my journal at a later time. This is handy because there is no doubt to my family that I am migraining and serves as a clue that they need to assume Migraine Fighting Protocol.
  • One trick I use to keep track of my medications and when they were taken is to turn the bottle over on the counter when I take it. On a notebook I keep nearby (or on the mirror) I write the time I took it. Simple numbers that’s all. This also helps when I need another dosage, I can more easily tell when it is time to take it.

When the attack has resolved, take the time to write notes with more details. You might mention anything from what you had to eat that day, to other potential triggers like fluorescents in the grocery store or someone’s horrendous perfume. You can look up the weather on various websites after the fact, making finding weather triggers much easier than it was in the old days. All this can be done after the crisis has been abated. Comments like these have a home on the Other Details tab of the Migraine Journal.

Bottom line

A Migraine Journal isn’t really supposed to be done during an attack. There may be things that happen during your attack that you want to be sure are included and that’s okay. Do what you can to make someone aware of them. Keep it simple. Don’t be obsessive, but be complete. Your doctor will look at weeks or months at a time, so you don’t want to overwhelm him/her.

Do what you can. That will be better than nothing at all.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Kas06019
    6 years ago

    My problem is my migraine have become so chronic journaling is its own full time job. When your in at least some pain almost everyday but many not a lot do you wait until the end of the day to write in that it was only a 2 pain day and not a 4 and risk forgetting to write in it altogether? I can’t tell when it starts and when it stops. The pains comes and goes when its this chronic and I know that this is when it is really crucial for me to journal but it makes me even more discouraged about how to go about trying to do so. I constantly exhausted and in some level of pain and when I’m not the last thing I want to do is write about when I was an yesterday!

  • rlc25e
    3 years ago

    Although my days are more like 4 all the time and pushing up to 8s regularly I totally get what you are saying. Trying to write a start and stop time is crazy for me. I tend to put when it eased down enough that I CAN function

  • Ellen Schnakenberg author
    6 years ago

    Kas06019 – At some point most doctors will tell you that you can take a break from journaling. Journaling is helpful in the diagnosis and treatment decision making and often is required by many doctors so they can see just where you are at on a daily basis with your headaches. That said, becoming obsessive with journaling isn’t usually in your best interests either. Have you talked to your doctor about their wishes for you re: journaling your Migraines? it just might be that they are okay with stopping journaling until you notice some changes occurring. Since you have done such a fabulous job in the past, it should be easy for the doctor to notice changes if you start having them, because you have such a good past record. Just something to consider 🙂

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